KSL Asks for Hail Mary Zoning Ordinance Change

KSL has spent the past 30 years touting its self-proclaimed state of the art status and its modern engineering sophistication. All of the sudden, they want everyone to forget those assertions and pretend this high tech structure is a mere pile of dirt. They can't have it both ways.

Here's a summary of what KSL is trying to do with the Dunmore Zoning Ordinance via today's Scranton Times:

Here's a summary of what KSL is trying to do with the Dunmore Zoning Ordinance via today's Scranton Times:

"Keystone Sanitary Landfill is trying to change Dunmore’s zoning ordinance to note that landfills are not structures.

The proposed changes, submitted by attorneys for the landfill along with a $500 processing fee, could stop the borough’s ordinance from limiting the height of any future mountains of trash there. Structures located in manufacturing districts in Dunmore cannot be higher than 50 feet, per the ordinance, but the landfill’s lawyers argue the facility is not a structure.

Whether it is or not is a legal question awaiting a ruling in a state appellate court.

Northampton County Senior Judge Leonard Zito, the visiting judge assigned the case after every Lackawanna County judge declined to preside, issued an order in October upholding a 2015 Dunmore Zoning Hearing Board decision that sided with Keystone and found landfills are not structures.

An attorney for Friends of Lackawanna, the primary activist group opposing the landfill’s proposed expansion, and six landfill neighbors — borough residents Joseph and Mari May, Edward and Beverly Mizanty and Todd and Katharine Spanish — filed an appeal on Nov. 19 challenging Zito’s order in Commonwealth Court.

While a judge has yet to rule on that appeal, the zoning ordinance amendment submitted by the landfill cites the zoning hearing board’s September 2015 ruling and Zito’s order upholding the board’s decision.

If ultimately approved by council, the proposed changes would amend the ordinance’s definition of a sanitary landfill by stating they “shall neither be considered, nor subject to regulation as, structures for purposes of this ordinance.”

“KSL (Keystone Sanitary Landfill) knows that modern landfills, according to the controlling Pennsylvania case law, are structures,” Pat Clark, a founding member of the Friends of Lackawanna, wrote in an email. “That’s why they are throwing this Hail Mary pass hoping for the Borough of Dunmore to bail them out on this end run around our ongoing litigation and the existing case law.”

The existing case law — Tri-County Landfill Inc. v. Pine Twp. Zoning Hearing Board — is a January 2014 Commonwealth Court ruling on a landfill proposed in Mercer County in which the court found a township zoning ordinance limits the height of structures to 40 feet and that the ordinance’s definition of structures includes landfills.

Multiple attempts to reach attorney Jeff Belardi, who submitted the petition for the zoning amendment on Keystone’s behalf, were unsuccessful. Last year, Belardi called the Dunmore case and the Mercer County case “factually different.”

Keystone consultant Al Magnotta referred all questions to Belardi.

The Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission reviewed the proposal to change Dunmore’s zoning ordinance and “cannot make a recommendation” at this time, according to an ordinance/amendment evaluation report obtained by The Times-Tribune. Whether landfills are structures subject to height restrictions in a zoning ordinance “is unsettled law in Pennsylvania,” the report notes, citing among other things the pending appeal in Commonwealth Court and the Mercer County case.

Dunmore’s planning commission has not made a recommendation on the amendment, but may discuss the proposed changes at its meeting tonight, member Al Senofonte said. That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Dunmore Borough Building, 400 S. Blakely St.

The borough also will take public comment on the proposed zoning amendment at a public hearing at 7 p.m. May 15 at the Dunmore Community Center, 1414 Monroe Ave.

“If Dunmore approves this request, it is ignoring reality, history, controlling case law and our future,” Clark said in his email. “There’s only one logical and just conclusion — denial of this request.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection continues to review Keystone’s expansion application. The landfill initially asked DEP to allow the burying of trash 165 feet higher in the expansion area than on existing permitted areas, but has since amended its application to eliminate the increased height.

Because Keystone could always amend the application again, the height-limitation question remains key, Jordan B. Yeager, the lawyer representing the neighbors and the citizens’ group in the Commonwealth Court appeal, said last year."

Contact the writer:
@jhorvathTT on Twitter


Final Health Consultation Report Confirms Health Harms


A Health Consultation report was finalized and published by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for the Keystone Sanitary Landfill (“KSL”) site in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. It confirms that the health of Northeastern Pennsylvania residents is being harmed.

Though KSL has been accepting waste for over thirty years, and has been rapidly expanding operations since opening its gates, this is the first health consultation ever centered on this facility. The consultation was requested by Friends of Lackawanna (“FOL”), a non-profit organized to stop KSL’s proposed 40+ year expansion which, if approved, will allow it to accept over 100-million additional tons of waste to the site. The lack of existing studies are even more concerning since, as the report states, “Landfills are known sources of environmental contamination based on previous studies.”

KSL’s expansion request is currently being evaluated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PaDEP”). In order for the expansion to be approved, KSL must prove that the benefits to this project clearly outweigh both the known and potential harms of the project.

Though many categories of harms related to this project have already been established, this published consultation adds additional health-related harms, both actual and potential. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Acute exposure to some of the contaminants (known to be emitted from landfills) detected in air near KSL cause negative health effects for sensitive populations, such as pregnant women, children, older adults and people with respiratory and heart disease.

  • An expansion and increase in landfill capacity could increase contaminant levels in air.

  • Odors, particulate matter and exposure contaminants in the air causing harm, resulting in irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract.
    Chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde were detected above known cancer risk evaluation guides.

  • Additional chemicals were found, exceeding acceptable health ranges, in the ambient air such as ammonia (exceeding standards at the Mid Valley School District, one of the collection sites); methylamine, acetaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide.

  • Changes in the landfill operations could adversely impact future subsurface vapor migration pathways.

  • Nutrient loading of aquatic systems by gull feces has serious implications for municipal surface water drinking water sources, such as the one near KSL.

The report does not draw a direct correlation between the facility and most known cancers, however, it acknowledges certain cancer rates in the area are higher for unknown reasons. However, "directly causing cancer" is not a standard by which a landfill expansion is evaluated by the DEP - it is whether the benefits of the expansion clearly outweigh both the known and potential harms.

Michele Dempsey, a founding member of Friends of Lackawanna, concluded, “Now that this health consultation is finalized, the DEP cannot approve this expansion as health concerns, both known and potential, are now on the record. To do so would be a dereliction of duty and would be acting in contrast to the department's Constitutional mandate according to Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Perhaps worse, it would put a price tag on our future, our reputation, and now, our health.”

Additional statements on this consultation and how it relates to the proposed expansion

“The real concern here, of course, is what the implications of these findings are for future public exposures to pollutants, and resulting health risks, under changes in landfill operations.”

-- Kevin M. Stewart, Director of Environmental Health, American Lung Association in Pennsylvania

"Despite limitations in the data available to ATDSR, the agency still found that some of the contaminants detected in ambient air near the landfill could have caused transitory adverse health effects for members of the community... It likely represents the tip of the iceberg and an underestimate of the everyday exposures from the landfill."

-- Steven Lester, Science Director, Center for Health, Environment & Justice

“On any given day, we have hundreds of children playing on our playground and on our fields.  To know that their health could be at risk under the current conditions sent a shock through the district.  This begs the question; how much worse would it be if the expansion is allowed?”

-- Donna Dixon,  current Mid Valley School District, Board Director, former Mid Valley Elementary School Principal

The full report is available at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/pha/KeystoneSanitaryLandfill/Keystone_Sanitary_Landfill_HC-508.pdf

Pat Clark's OpEd: Landfill’s record should kill expansion plan

The Times-TribuneMarch 24, 2019

We are taught that rainbows and wild geese should not be chased. Circles cannot be squared. Windmills are not to be tilted at, nor pipes to be dreamed of.

But can a group of concerned citizens stop a mega-landfill from expanding and cementing a region’s reputation as the dumping ground of the northeast?

In 2014, the Keystone Sanitary Landfill proposed to triple in size — adding more than 100 million tons of garbage over the next 40 to 50 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection uses a harms-benefits analysis concerning landfill expansion proposals. To obtain an expansion permit, a landfill must prove that benefits of the project clearly outweigh known and potential harms.

Our area has accepted more than its fair share of garbage, much of it from out of state; instinctual questions about safety, prudence and need for such an expansion arise and intuition does not carry the day in the harms-benefits analysis. Facts are needed and a record must be established.

At the time of application, Keystone pointed to its stellar compliance history, lack of violations and self-proclaimed “state of the art” status. Ignoring the notion that a landfill being state of the art today is the equivalent of having the fastest dial-up internet in town, the landfill’s compliance file at DEP, to that point, was thin.

Knowing the violation history was virtually nonexistent, Friends of Lackawanna began by analyzing the process DEP used to regulate the landfill. And after a lengthy review, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board agreed that the DEP had not done its job.
The board found that DEP’S process with the landfill was a “heads I win, tails you lose” loop, always favoring the landfill, stating that “the biggest deficiency with the Department’s review [of Keystone’s compliance history] was that it relied almost entirely on recorded violations, yet the department almost never records any violations at Keystone, even if they undeniably occurred.” That “essentially guarantees that the permittee will pass the formal compliance history review with flying colors.”

That dereliction of duty is how a landfill morphs from a small, neighborhood dump to defining the aesthetic landscape of a region. In 1990, Keystone could accept an average of 2,000 tons of waste per day. In 1991, it increased to 3,500. In 1998, it increased again to 4,750. And from 2012 on, it is up to 7,250 tons daily.

Having established that the oversight process was broken, we attempted to prove there are actual harms associated with this landfill. We looked through records, read reports and requested health data. We have established a record that is anything but flawless. The everfattening record includes:

■ State-confirmed ongoing contamination of groundwater at the landfill for more than 15 years.
■ Landfill citations from DEP for leaking, spilling and improperly storing leachate.
■ The landfill discharged leachate into the sewer system, according to the Environmental Hearing Board.
■ Keystone’s data show property values nearest the landfill have decreased relative to property values farther from the site.
■ DEP confirms that surrounding neighborhoods have been increasingly impacted by pungent odors.
■ A state Department of Health consultation shows toxic chemicals, known to cause adverse health effects, were found during ambient air testing. That can impact our most-sensitive populations: children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with respiratory problems.
■ DEP has not “consistently exercised vigorous oversight of the landfill consistent with its regulatory and constitutional responsibilities with just as much concern about the rights of the landfill’s neighbors as the rights of the landfill,” the Environmental Hearing Board reported.

The community at large has supported our mission at every turn. Our network of members continues to grow after five years, including standing-room capacity at public hearings and informational sessions. Our elected public officials — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright; Pennsylvania Sen. John Blake and state Rep. Kyle Mullins — all support our position and oppose this expansion. Our active online petition opposing the expansion has soared past our signature goal of 5,000.

Over the five years, we have moved from a nonexistent record to one filled with undeniable harms. We have shifted from a community accepting the status quo to one fighting for a better future. We have shifted from instincts to indisputable evidence.

With what it now knows, if DEP allows this expansion it will ignore the record, the community, our elected representatives, the known and potential harms and its constitutional duty as a trustee of our natural resources. Friends of Lackawanna has made our case. All the DEP needs to do in order to deny this expansion is read the file.


Pat Clark: State Affirms Status as Nation's Dumping Ground

Pat Clark has written another brilliant editorial on how the unintended consequences of garbage regulations written in the 1980’s turned Pennsylvania into America’s dump. Which of our leaders will be strong enough and brave enough to stand up to Big Garbage to reverse this trend and stand for a brighter, cleaner future for Pennsylvania starting by denying the expansion of KSL?


Unintended consequences are often born of the purest intentions.

The introduction of passenger-side air bags was a major safety advance but initially resulted in more child fatalities. Prohibition may have reduced alcohol consumption in the 1920s but it helped the advance of organized crime in America. Smokey Bear had iconic public service announcements but likely contributed to an increase in catastrophic forest fires.

When enacting the Solid Waste Management Act in 1980, Pennsylvania’s elected officials knew we had a problem. They found that “improper and inadequate solid waste practices create public health hazards, environmental pollution, and economic loss and cause irreparable harm to the public health, safety and welfare.”

They passed laws and introduced regulations intending to fix the known problems. Forty years later, the law of unintended consequences reared its ugly — and smelly — head once again. Pennsylvania is now America’s dump. Pennsylvania consistently imports more garbage than any other state. We have been doing this since at least the 1990s. We have more trash per person wrapped up in our landfills than any other state in the country except for Nevada.

Nevadans better watch out; we are coming for that crown, too. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved landfill capacity at a breakneck pace and scale. Between 1995 and 2000, the state’s available landfill capacity increased from 146 million tons to 287 million tons. Since, it has been more of the same. Most-recent reports show more than 360 million tons of available capacity.

Do we need this continued expansion of supply to accommodate an equally increasing demand for landfill space? Is each person generating more trash? No, not only is per-person waste production decreasing, but recycling rates are increasing. At the current pace, and with no new additional capacity, Pennsylvania has more than 20 years of landfill space remaining.

Big Garbage knows this. It has spent 40 years learning, tweaking and beating the system. What is Big Garbage’s game plan and what is the end game?

First, they get the capacity. Big Garbage has identified Pennsylvania as a location where the industry can readily expand and trash can easily reach. This blatant expansionary mindset was best displayed in a hearing for the Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s proposed expansion. When asked why it wants a nearly 50-year expansion, a landfill spokesperson glibly replied, “because we couldn’t fit 100.” Reports show that over the past 20 years, the DEP has approved thousands of expansion and modification requests while also allowing new landfills to be built.

Second, they use the capacity surplus to keep the status quo. Big Garbage knows that leading progressive cities — like Seattle and New York — states and companies — such as Google, Microsoft and Subaru — actively seek to evolve from a disposable economy — take-make-dispose — to a circular economy — take, make, reuse, repurpose and design out waste. Many have defined goals of zero waste. Even the Environmental Protection Agency has a stated goal to reduce domestic food loss and waste by half by the year 2030. However, Big Garbage knows that as long as cheap landfill space remains available, the impetus, or necessity, to change is mostly reduced or eliminated.

Third, they play the long game. Big Garbage realizes that today’s capacity surplus may result in a near-term race to the bottom in terms of pricing. How else to explain that some western states transport their trash to our backyard rather than address the issue at home? However, at some point, as other states continue to reduce landfill capacity, close existing sites and decline new facilities, Pennsylvania’s excess landfill capacity will be the only game in town. Landfills know this and are preparing for it. A few years to get a permit and a few years of suboptimal pricing is rational trade-off for a multi-decade trash-cash annuity.

Unfortunately, for the residents of Pennsylvania, we cannot afford to lose this game. After nearly 40 years, we know the game plan. The data is clear. And without change, the road will result in only one destination: Pennsylvania will irreversibly cement its reputation as America’s dump.

The challenge at hand, and the call to action, is clear. Will our elected officials stand up for the future of Pennsylvania? Who will change the narrative from the state that forever took everyone’s trash to the state that led the way to a brighter future? Who is going to finally stop kicking the can down the road, address the situation and rewrite our legacy before it is too late? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a first step. Denying Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s proposed expansion would be a monumental step in the 

FOL Gets Day In Court over Expansion Plans

Three years later (!!!), we are finally getting closer to deciding the merits of our Zoning case instead of the non stop procedural issues the Landfill has focused on...

This article in the Scranton Times summarizes the oral arguments held on 9/17/18 in Lackawanna County:

SCRANTON — Lawyers for Keystone Sanitary Landfill and neighbors opposing its proposed expansion argued Monday over whether Dunmore’s zoning ordinance can limit the future height of a new mountain of trash.

A lawyer for Friends of Lackawanna, the chief expansion opposition group, and six landfill neighbors told a visiting judge the ordinance’s 50-foot height limit applies to structures in manufacturing districts like the landfill.

Keystone’s lawyers say the height limit applies to buildings, not structures, and the borough’s zoning ordinance distinguishes between the two. The zoning board sided with Keystone in September 2015. The board’s lawyer, attorney Carl J. Greco, showed up Monday in Lackawanna County Court to back Keystone’s contention that its expansion is not a building.

“We agree with that position,” said Greco, who sat with Keystone’s lawyers, attorneys Jeffrey J. Belardi, David R. Overstreet and Christopher R. Nestor.

Keystone proposes an expansion that will allow it to remain open 46 more years. Initially, the landfill asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to allow burying trash 165 feet higher in the expansion area than on existing permitted areas. Keystone has since amended its application to eliminate the increased height. The zoning board ruling remains based on the original application.

Friends of Lackawanna and landfill neighbors Joseph and Mari May, Edward and Beverly Mizanty and Todd and Katharine Spanish appealed the zoning board ruling. Senior Judge Leonard Zito, the out-of-town judge assigned to the case after every county judge declined to preside, ruled the group and neighbors couldn’t appeal because they lack standing, meaning the landfill wouldn’t affect them. They appealed to Commonwealth Court, which ruled in May they have standing and sent the case back to Zito.

Attorney Jordan B. Yeager, the Friends of Lackawanna and neighbors’ lawyer, told Zito the Keystone case matches a January 2014 Commonwealth Court ruling on a landfill proposed in Mercer County. In that case, the Commonwealth Court found a township zoning ordinance limits structures to 40 feet high and the definition of structures includes landfills.

In ruling against Tri-County Landfill Inc.’s plans for a 99-acre landfill, township zoners ruled the landfill’s soil, multiple liners, gravel, stone and trash constitute a structure that must meet the height limit.

In Dunmore’s ordinance, the definition of a structure says, “structures include buildings, ...,” and buildings in an M-1 manufacturing zone like the one that includes Keystone can stand no taller than 50 feet, though opponents acknowledge the landfill has long piled trash much higher. The ordinance does not specifically exempt Keystone from the height requirement, Yeager said.

Yes it does, but in a different way, argued Overstreet, one of Keystone’s lawyers.

Relying on the zoning board’s argument, Overstreet said the height limit applies only to buildings because of what the zoning ordinance says. While the ordinance’s definition of structures includes buildings, the ordinance also defines buildings as “any structure having a roof supported by columns or walls, used or intended to be used for the shelter or enclosure of persons, animals or property.” The zoning ordinance specifically lists height limits for buildings, not structures, according to a copy of the ordinance.

“You can see clearly the landfill isn’t a building,” Overstreet said. “A landfill is not a building and the height limits apply only to buildings.”

Zito gave Yeager 10 days to file a written response to Overstreet’s arguments and Overstreet another 10 days after that to respond to Yeager.

DEP continues to review the landfill’s expansion application.

Contact the writer:



Letter to the Editor: Andrew Durkin

The next generation has spoken! In today’s Letter to the Editor, 14 year old Andrew Durkin gives logical, inarguable, common sense reasons for denying the expansion. Are you listening DEP? #Don’t dump our future.

No landfill expansion

Editor: I am a 14-year-old resident of Dunmore and want to share my opinion on the proposed expansion of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill.

I believe that the landfill expansion would be bad for Northeastern Pennsylvania for several reasons.

I’m concerned that the landfill will harm the air and water quality in Dunmore and Lackawanna County. For example, on some days I can smell the landfill in my backyard and that is before any proposed expansion.

The expansion would be an eyesore in the Lackawanna Valley. It would be taller than almost all the buildings in this area. The most noticeable thing in the valley would be a mountain of garbage.

The majority of the garbage will come from other states, so it’s not even benefiting the people of Lackawanna County.

The homes near the landfill will go down in value. Owners won’t be able to sell them because no one will want to buy a house near a landfill, especially if you can smell it.

For these reasons I believe that the landfill’s expansion request should be denied.


Chris Kelly: A shift in the wind

From Chris Kelly’s article:

Pat Clark was at the Jersey Shore with his wife and kids when I rang his cellphone.

“It’s funny that you called,” the co-founder of Friends of Lackawanna said. “I was just saying to my wife that there are more seagulls back home (in Dunmore) than there are here.”

... In May, the court rightly decided that citizens have a right to stand against actions that threaten the quality of life in their communities. Tuesday’s rejection of Keystone’s appeal reaffirms that obvious truth.

[Click the Here to read the full article.]

Letter to the Editor: By Richard Yost

In today’s Letter the the Editor, Richard Yost imagines what could happen to our population if the landfill expansion were to be approved:

What will likely happen for many families with young children? They hope for a positive, anti-expansion verdict from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They may well flee the region altogether. Having lived through the nuclear accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, I saw numerous friends and associates depart from south-central Pennsylvania.

Citizens Get Day In Court: Time Editorial

An astute article by the Scranton Times Editorial Board today. Check it out!

"That, in turn, goes to the ultimate question of whether the state Department of Environmental Protection should permit the expansion. Its examination includes a harms/benefits analysis. If, as the court said, “these harms have discernible adverse effects” now, how could the proposed 40-year expansion not prolong those harms — especially since the project would result in more than 100 million more tons of garbage being dumped at Keystone?"

Read More Here

Appeals Court Reinstates Lawsuit Challenging KSL Expansion

GREAT NEWS! The state Commonwealth Court ruled that Friends of Lackawanna and six Dunmore residents DO have standing to continue to challenge that the height of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill violates the zoning ordinance!

Judge Zito of the Lackawanna County Commonwealth Court had ruled that the residents and Friends of Lackawanna lacked standing to challenge the decision because they failed to show they would suffer direct, immediate and substantial harm — a necessary element to pursue the case.

However, a three-member panel of the state Commonwealth Court disagreed.

“Rather than constituting mere nuisances or annoyances, these harms have discernible adverse effects on the individual objectors,” the court said. “The proposed expansion would, at the least, continue, if not exacerbate, the present harm.”

FOL is thrilled to now be able to challenge this case on its merits because we have the precedent, the law and the facts on our side. In the attached article, Pat Clark states, “Every time we challenge KSL, they try to use legal standing as a shield to stop us at the gates. Sadly, local courts and boards tend to agree with them,” Clark said. “But each time we get in front of a higher body, first with the Environmental Hearing Board and now with the Commonwealth Court, they confirm that not only do we have standing, but that we clearly do.”

Read More Here

PA HOMEPAGE Coverage: DOH Meeting

THROOP, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - Economic benefits versus potential health risks, that's been the battle people living near the keystone sanitary landfill have been fighting.

The Department of Health has been tracking issues near the dump in Lackawanna County. Tonight, the public heard their findings.

After reporting on a two year study, the DoH say there is no major health risk as the landfill sits right now.

Nearly 200 residents of Throop and Dunmore wanted to hear what the Department of Health had to say about the air coming from the Keystone Sanitary Landfill.

Pat Clark of the group “Friends of Lackawanna” said, "What did it actually find and what are the concerns and most importantly what are the risks moving forward?"

Some call the landfill an eyesore with a chemical smell.

Twice in 2015 and once in 2016 the DoH conducted air monitoring three months at a time. They found spikes of chemicals in the air.

Of the health risks involved with those spikes, PA Department of Health representative Sharon Watkins said, "Short term transitory health effects. Maybe like a headache or eye iteration or throat iteration. "

The study was pushed by advocates against expanding the landfill up or out.

"What they're looking to do is triple the landfill in size, if you do the math over time it's not going to get smaller and the health concerns are not going to get less” said Clark.

Albert Magnotta, a keystone consultant, said "They didn't correlate the wind direction and the consideration of the particular. So, there is no way that they can even remotely say they came from keystone."

Without doubt the DoH says their findings come from the landfill.

Many who work, live, and breathe near the 'fill are worried about young students.

"(Kids) trying to enjoy a simple day at recess while their eyes tear and they struggle to breath should be appalling to everyone in this room" said Danna Dixon, a secretary on the Mid Valley School Board.

Before the study residents asked about the cancer risk.

The department of health says there is no risk to the deadly disease short or long term.

The department of environmental protection is continuing to accept public comment through February 14th. The answers will be provided in its final document in June.

To submit a question DEP will take public comment on their website. 

FOX56 News Recap: DOH Meeting

THROOP, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WOLF) — "Why is the landfill open if kids can get sick?" asked Dennis Dempsy, a boy from South Abington.

Monday night Pennsylvania Department of Health officials presented their findings on a study of the air quality surrounding Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore and Throop boroughs.


During a three month health risk study they found some spikes in chemical emissions above standards that may cause short term health effects like nose, throat, and eye irritation.

They said these spikes may be outliers and not the norm for surrounding air.

A twelfth grader from Old Forge questioned the board of officials, citing what she'd learned about outliers from a high school stats class.

"Anytime a kid can't go outside cause they could get a nosebleed or their throat could hurt, that's when an outlier in data means something."

Borough residents have expressed concerns over air quality for years.

In February 2015 the PA DOH received a request to conduct an environmental health study, with their first assessment letter being issued in October of that year.

Their most recent report came in December of 2017.

The DOH said the effects discovered may just be short-term.

"They're transitory, so what that means is that once the odor is gone or to move away from that site, those symptoms should go away," said one DOH official.

The DOH said long-term exposure to the surrounding air isn't expected to cause more harmful illnesses such as cancer.

But people questioned how accurate the study could be if it only took a three-month sample, and monitored air that was not in the direction of the prevailing winds.

"There's no chronic study here. This is a very, extremely limited study that was not modeled on a fifty-year landfill. What's the relevancy, why are you even here?" asked one woman.

"They provided the community with some data about what chemicals and compounds and air quality you're currently experiencing and what health risks we can estimate based on those compounds found," responded Dr. Sharon Watkins, with the PA Department of Health,

Health officials also say it's not conclusive of what could happen in the future, and if the landfill moves forward with expansion.

"During those twenty months may not he what is happening today or may not happen tomorrow, or if the landfill is given permission to expand we may not know what will happen," said another DOH official.

The DOH is now recommending that DEP oversee landfill activities and enforce regulations. They will be taking public until February 14th via email at env-concern.health@pa.gov.

Scranton Times Recap: DOH Meeting

State, federal officials discuss Keystone landfill report



It did, however, note that four chemicals were detected at one-day concentrations that can have temporary negative health effects — including mild irritation of the eyes, throat, nose, skin and respiratory tract — on pregnant woman, children, older people, individuals with respiratory problems and other “sensitive populations.”

Calling the scope of the report “extremely limited,” Dunmore resident Janet Brier questioned its overall relevancy.

“By your own admission, this is a very limited study,” she said. “You didn’t take any data during the summer months, July, August, September, when ... the air quality is completely different. You didn’t take any air quality samples in the landfill. ... My question to you is, what’s the relevancy of this study really?”

The report explored what chemicals residents may be exposed to and what health effects those chemicals can have, state epidemiologist Sharon Watkins, Ph.D., said.

Mid Valley School Director Donna Dixon, a former elementary principal in the district, said it’s her job to keep students safe, but questioned how she can do that if the air they breathe can be harmful.

“On any given day, we have hundreds of children playing on our playground and on our fields,” Dixon said. “To know that their health can be at risk under the current conditions sent a shock through our district. This begs the question: how much worse would it be if the expansion is allowed?”

WNEP News Recap of DOH Meeting

Residents Pack First Meeting with Health Officials After Landfill Air Quality Report Release: WNEP

THROOP -- It was a packed public meeting with members of two communities and state officials over the safety findings of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill at Mid Valley High School in Throop.

The report was released last month, and Monday night, residents had their first chance to get more information on what was found.

Many residents living in Dunmore and Throop, which surround the Keystone Sanitary Landfill, have concerns about what the garbage dump is doing to the quality of their air.

“On any given day we have hundreds of children playing on our playgrounds and on our fields,” said Donna Dixon, the secretary for the Mid Valley School Board of Education, during a public meeting with the Pennsylvania Department of Health at the high school.

This was the first opportunity for people to meet with the state since the department released the findings of an air quality study last month and folks packed into the auditorium for a question and answer session.

“From the testing that was done but there's also recommendations in there for additional testing and that's one of the questions that I wanted to ask tonight,” said Vincent Tanana from Throop.

Health officials say they reviewed data collected at two air quality testing sites, the Mid Valley School District and Sherwood Park, located around the landfill over a three month period.

While it found nothing that would cause cancer, it did find short-term exposure to that air could be sensitive to some.

“Some short-term, transient, mild health effects, maybe eye irritation, throat irritation, headaches, things like that,” said Dr. Sharon Watkins with the Department of Health.

But Michelle Dempsey, with Friends of Lackawanna, a grassroots effort that’s fighting the landfill’s request to expand, says that's unacceptable.

“This study has shown that there are toxins in the air that are putting our kids at risk, and we're at a school with 1,700 kids on this campus daily, and that's just intolerable,” said Dempsey.

However, a spokesperson for the landfill says it has done its own health study which found the landfill to be 100 percent safe.

“It's very clear that after 50 years of operation there's no negative impact on the people in Throop, Dunmore, or Lackawanna County,” said Al Magnotta.

The meeting with the state health department had nothing to do with the landfill's request for expansion; that request is with state environmental officials.

The health department will take public comments on its study until February 14.

A final report including public comments will be available later this year.

A Letter From Pat Clark

As Submitted to the Scranton Times Tribune, January 14, 2018

“An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The phrase is a dressed-up way of saying that simply because something is missing doesn’t mean that something isn’t real. This brings us to the curious case of the empty records regarding the Keystone Landfill.

In 2014, the onset of this generation’s opposition to Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s proposed 44-year, 100-million ton expansion towards the heavens, the Landfill was described as “state of the art”.

There were no mentions of, nor documentation of, groundwater contamination. Or leachate spills. Or underground fires. Or depressed property values. Or odors. Or health concerns. Perhaps these concerns were over-blown? After all, we have the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to rely on. It regulates the Landfill and surely, it has our back.

The DEP’s stated Mission is, “to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” Except, when it comes to this Landfill, it has not.

In late 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) analyzed the process DEP has used over time with this landfill. It found that, “The record does not demonstrate that it [Pennsylvania DEP] has consistently exercised vigorous oversight of the landfill consistent with its regulatory and constitutional responsibilities with just as much concern about the rights of the landfill’s neighbors as the rights of the landfill.”

Since birth, this Landfill has had an insatiable appetite. When initially asked why it needs to expand for over 40 years at a public meeting, a Landfill representative quipped, “because we couldn’t fit 100 years”. And for each request to grow over the past 30 years, the State would follow the same pattern. Read landfill proposal. Consult the landfill’s “record.” Record clean. Growth approved. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. That is how a Landfill grows from accepting 500 tons of trash per day to over 7,000 tons per day. That’s how a local town dump becomes one of the largest landfills in the country. That’s how our Region has become dominated by garbage.

Fortunately, in our quest to create a record and stop this Landfill’s growth, we were not the only group to recognize the failures in this process. The EHB found that “the biggest deficiency with the Department’s review [of Keystone’s compliance history] was that it relied almost entirely on recorded violations, yet the Department almost never records any violations at Keystone, even if they undeniably occurred” which “essentially guarantees that the permittee will pass the formal compliance history review with flying colors.”

The process is broken. The oversight is lax. But is there a record? Are there actual harms associated with this landfill’s growth? Can we create the heretofore missing record? Yes

Day by day, since 2014, we have established, on the record, that the Landfill has been responsible for groundwater contamination for over 14 consecutive years. Underground fires have been confirmed. Leachate spills have been recorded multiple times over the past year. Property values, by KSL’s own analysis, are depressed closer to the landfill. Lagoons designed to contain garbage juice, leak. The regional aesthetic will be forever degraded. Toxic chemicals are being released into the air.

Perhaps most importantly, prior to Friends of Lackawanna’s involvement, there were no records relating to the impact this Landfill has on the health of the region. We requested health studies commence to establish both a baseline and a record. Preliminary findings were released in December, 2017. Fortunately, one of the findings was that it is unlikely that the chemicals around the landfill are likely to cause cancer. However, “cancer causing chemicals” is not the threshold for safety. Sadly, the report also found that exposure to the chemicals and particulates in and around the landfill could cause other negative health problems especially for those most in need of protection - our children, our elderly, pregnant women and medically fragile residents. This is an unacceptable risk.

To get an expansion, KSL must prove, and the DEP must agree, that the benefits to the expansion clearly outweigh both the known and potential harms of this project. At this point, the only benefit KSL has to offer is money. Conversely, the harms are real, documented and now, on the record. And this record, already substantial, was created by a grassroots, volunteer based, non-profit organization. Logic and common sense dictate that if this landfill grows, and more rocks are looked under, these known and potential harms will only grow side by side with the mountain of trash.

For the past four years, Friends of Lackawanna has worked tirelessly on behalf of the community. We have documented the harms. We have done the work. We have developed the missing record. With all that is now known, if the DEP approves this expansion, the message is clear: the people and future of Northeastern Pennsylvania are worth less than a pile of garbage.

EHB Finds Another Violation of PA's Environmental Rights Amendment, But Again Only in the Presence of a Regulatory Violation

Posted on November 22, 2017 by: Thomas M. Duncan

On November 8, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) issued an adjudication in Friends of Lackawanna v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2015-063-L (Adjudication issued Nov. 8, 2017), in which the Board upheld the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) issuance of a renewal of Keystone Sanitary Landfill, Inc’s (“Keystone”) solid waste management permit for the Keystone Landfill. At the same time, the Board added a condition to the permit requiring Keystone to prepare a groundwater assessment plan based on groundwater degradation observed in one of its monitoring wells. Interspersed throughout this decision was language that shed additional light on the Board’s view of how Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, often referred to as the Environmental Rights Amendment, applies to DEP permitting decisions.

Last summer, the Board issued its decision in Center for Coalfield Justice v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B (Adjudication issued Aug. 15, 2017) (“CCJ”), in which the Board provided initial guidance on how to apply Article I, Section 27 in the context of a DEP permitting decision. Applying the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Pa. Environmental Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, No. 10 MAP 2015 (Pa. June 20, 2017), the Board held in CCJ that the Section 27 Constitutional standard is not coextensive with compliance with DEP’s statutes and regulations, suggesting that the Board could find a violation of Section 27 even if an applicant otherwise complied with all applicable statutes and regulations.

In Friends of Lackawanna, the Board explicitly stated that Article I, Section 27 applies “[r]egardless of which statutory or regulations apply.” The Board further explained that, “in theory, an operation may be compliant with all specific regulatory requirements and yet not be permittable due to the unreasonable degradation it will cause” under Section 27. The Board admitted that this is “a rather vague standard,” but added that “it is not that different from the standard that this Board has employed for decades.” 

Turning to the merits of the appeal, the Board began by recognizing that DEP possesses the authority to add conditions to permits through the permit renewal process. Based on degradation found in a well prior to issuance of the permit renewal, Keystone was required under DEP’s regulations at 25 Pa. Code § 273.286(a) to prepare and submit to DEP a groundwater assessment plan within 60 days after observing the degradation. DEP, however, issued the permit renewal before Keystone had fully complied with this requirement. The Board therefore added a condition to the permit requiring Keystone to submit a groundwater assessment plan within 60 days. The Board also held that, by issuing the permit while this violation was outstanding, DEP violated its duties as trustee of the Commonwealth’s natural resources under Article I, Section 27. Similar to the Board’s prior holding in CCJ, the Board found that a violation of DEP’s regulations necessarily resulted in a violation of Section 27. 

On other issues, including compliance history, odors, and leachate management, the Board found that the appellant had failed to carry its burden of proof to necessitate a remand of the permit renewal. In the discussion of offsite odors, however, the Board acknowledged that, in addition to compliance with DEP’s odor regulations at 25 Pa. Code §§ 123.31(b) and 273.218(b), “offsite landfill odors are a cognizable injury subject to evaluation and control pursuant to Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” The Board framed the issue as “whether those odors are causing an unreasonable degradation or deterioration of the environment and the quality of life of the landfill’s neighbors such that the Department violated the neighbors’ constitutional rights by renewing the permit and thereby effectively allowing the odors to continue for another ten years.” The Board, nevertheless, found that the appellant had failed to carry its burden of proof and noted that “[s]hutting down this facility at this juncture is simply too extreme a resolution in the context of a permit renewal.” 

A key takeaway from Friends of Lackawanna is that, while the Board will continue to announce that the Section 27 Constitutional standard is not coextensive with DEP’s regulations, the result in the Board’s most recent holdings is that regulatory compliance results in Section 27 compliance and regulatory noncompliance results in Section 27 noncompliance. Thus, to avoid running afoul of Section 27, permit applicants should take particular care in demonstrating strict compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations.

Times-Tribune Editorial Board: Wolf, DEP Owe Explanation on Landfill

In an article posted on November 14th, the Times-Tribune Editorial Board criticizes the Department of Environmental Protection and the Wolf administration in general for their sloppy handling of Keystone Sanitary Landfill's health and environmental violations. Just like in the Kyle Wind article posted on the 13th, Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. seemed to be the harshest critic of the DEP's failure to do its job. As quoted in the article, the judge had this to say:

"We do have some doubts about whether the department has fulfilled its responsibilities as a prudent, loyal and impartial trustee of the public natural resources. The record does not demonstrate that it has consistently exercised vigorous oversight of the landfill consistent with its regulatory and constitutional responsibilities with just as much concern about the rights of the landfills' neighbors as the rights of the landfill."

Click here to read the full article. 


State Board Won't Rescind Keystone Landfill Operating Permit

In this article published on November 13th, Kyle Wind reports that the State Environmental Hearing Board declined to rescind Keystone Sanitary Landfill's operating permit. However, they are requiring KSL to conduct a groundwater assessment plan in response to contamination picked up by a monitoring well for the past 15 years. This decision can be seen as both a win and a loss for both sides. The biggest take away for Friends of Lackawanna is the confirmation of our complaints that the DEP has been guilty of vast oversight when it comes to regulating actions of KSL. Perhaps the most criticism of the DEP came from Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr., who in the written adjudication of FOL's appeal wrote: 

"The department relies on formal, memorialized violations in conducting its review....but the department, with rare exceptions, never memorializes an of Keystone's violations. The department has guidance documents that require its personnel to record violations even if the violations are minor and/or corrected. The department ignored these guidance documents with respect to Keystone."

Click here to read the full article. 


Four Candidates Vie for Three Seats on Scranton City Council

In a Times-Tribune article, staff writer Jim Lockwood discussed candidates for the upcoming Scranton City Council election on November 7th, specifically their views on the Scranton Sewage Authority and the Keystone Sanitary Landfill. Three of the four candidates (Pat Rogan, Bill Gaughan, and Kyle Donahue) have explicitly voiced opposition to the expansion of KSL, while Tony Dibileo has remained vague about the issue. Here are a few of the article's highlights:

"We just should not be continuously bringing in out-of-state garbage into our community."– Kyle Donahue

"When I think of that monstrosity up there, that has been allowed to continue to expand over the years, unchecked, and the amount of out-of-state trash that we take, it is disgusting....This is about the health, safety, and welfare of our residents. It shouldn't be about the almighty dollar and whether or not somebody throws us a new firetruck or donates to one of the local universities."– Bill Gaughan

"Saying he opposes the landfill expansion, Rogan said, 'It's easy to talk about being against the landfill, but the actual solution is to create less waste. I've been a strong supporter of increasing our recycling in the city of Scranton.'"

Click here to read Jim Lockwood's full article.