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