Residents on Monday called on the state attorney general to launch a probe into ash dumped at the Brookhaven landfill, citing a Newsday investigation that found that Long Island's leading waste incinerator, Covanta, couldn’t be sure that ash it was dumping there wasn't hazardous. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Anthony Florio

Environmentalists and civil rights advocates want State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate a waste incinerator’s dumping of ash at Brookhaven landfill, following Newsday revealing that the company for years couldn’t be certain the material was nonhazardous.

“There is no way that they can investigate themselves," said Georgette Grier-Key, president of the Brookhaven NAACP chapter, about the state Department of Environmental Conservation Monday at a news conference at the landfill with other residents and activists. “They thought that we would go away and this would be swept under the rug.”

Newsday, citing internal emails filed in an ongoing “whistleblower” lawsuit, reported that employees at the incinerator, Covanta Hempstead, for nearly a decade suspected ash practices at the company’s Westbury plant were risky, imprecise and contrary to what they represented to regulators at the DEC.

One component of incinerator ash — lighter, drier “fly” ash — contains higher concentrations of potentially cancer-causing heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. Covanta submits ash samples for required toxicity testing that are mixed to minimize fly ash and allow the material to be deemed non-hazardous.

From 2006 to 2014, however, Covanta struggled to have the ash it sent to Brookhaven landfill match the samples, the private company records show, with an engineer at one point stating the company was “lucky” the DEC didn’t challenge it.

The DEC on Monday didn't address the calls for the attorney general to investigate.

Covanta denies wrongdoing and says its ash has never been proved to be hazardous, or contributed to any environmental or health harm. Residents surrounding the landfill, primarily in North Bellport, which is majority Black and Latino, have complained about breathing and tasting ash that has blown from the landfill into their neighborhoods, and have worried about the potential impacts.

The DEC for two years has been investigating the ash Covanta dumped at the landfill. More than two dozen people who gathered outside the dump Monday — some holding signs reading "No Toxic Ash" — say the regulator cannot be trusted, since its own oversight is now under scrutiny. 

They cited Newsday's findings from the private correspondence, including DEC overlooking Covanta sending Brookhaven ash during a period in 2007 when its samples failed toxicity testing; Covanta’s DEC monitor in 2014 omitting negative information from inspection reports; and the monitor appearing to tip off the company it had a potential whistleblower.

Representatives of James’ office didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. The Attorney General's Office previously declined to intervene in and litigate the state whistleblower lawsuit that generated the internal Covanta documents. It also has declined Covanta’s requests to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in 2013 by former Covanta employee Patrick Fahey.

The DEC ultimately forced Covanta to change the way it handled its ash, ensuring what is sent to the landfill is reflective of testing samples. In 2019, responding to mounting community criticism, it also issued the landfill violations for failing to control odors from construction debris.

Responding to Newsday’s story, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement that the agency during his tenure, which began in 2015, has been “aggressive, science-based and responsive to community concerns.

“DEC is taking a hard look at past practices at the Brookhaven landfill and Covanta facility, and we are taking seriously information from a decade ago or more as it comes to light during the ongoing litigation,” Seggos said. “We will take action to address any violations we find.”

Covanta has said in lawsuit filings that ash practices in question were “either affirmatively disclosed to the government regulator responsible for environmental oversight … or were conducted in plain view of the on-site DEC monitors and other DEC personnel, who never found a violation.”

The company noted its environmental expert has reviewed test results from water that has seeped from landfill waste piles and found no elevated levels of lead or cadmium.

"After 10 years of scrutiny, there is no evidence that any ash delivered by Covanta to the Brookhaven landfill has ever caused any environmental contamination," Covanta spokeswoman Nicolle Robles said in a statement Monday.

North Bellport has levels more than double the Suffolk County rate of adult emergency department visits for asthma, according to state Department of Health data. More than two dozen people have sued Brookhaven trying to tie the landfill to their cancers and other illnesses.

No state agency has found widespread ash pollution from the Brookhaven landfill or a link from any landfill exposure to adverse health impacts.

Still, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said residents have never felt as if the state has seriously studied pollution, illness and the landfill.

"The bottom line here is that the regulators have failed to protect us," she said.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, speaking at an unrelated event Monday, told Newsday that he would “welcome” an investigation into the ash the landfill received.

“But obviously it shouldn’t be done by the DEC because they were being accused of not doing their jobs,” Romaine said.

With Carl MacGowan

Environmentalists and civil rights advocates want State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate a waste incinerator’s dumping of ash at Brookhaven landfill, following Newsday revealing that the company for years couldn’t be certain the material was nonhazardous.

“There is no way that they can investigate themselves," said Georgette Grier-Key, president of the Brookhaven NAACP chapter, about the state Department of Environmental Conservation Monday at a news conference at the landfill with other residents and activists. “They thought that we would go away and this would be swept under the rug.”

Newsday, citing internal emails filed in an ongoing “whistleblower” lawsuit, reported that employees at the incinerator, Covanta Hempstead, for nearly a decade suspected ash practices at the company’s Westbury plant were risky, imprecise and contrary to what they represented to regulators at the DEC.

One component of incinerator ash — lighter, drier “fly” ash — contains higher concentrations of potentially cancer-causing heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. Covanta submits ash samples for required toxicity testing that are mixed to minimize fly ash and allow the material to be deemed non-hazardous.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Community advocates are calling for an independent investigation of a waste incinerator's disposal of ash at Brookhaven landfill
  • Their calls come in response to Newsday revealing internal company emails that show the incinerator, Covanta Hempstead, for years couldn't be certain that its ash was nonhazardous, and that the state Department of Environmental Conservation didn't challenge them
  • The DEC, which ultimately forced Covanta to change its practices, says it is taking a "hard look" at the new revelations, but residents said they don't trust the agency

From 2006 to 2014, however, Covanta struggled to have the ash it sent to Brookhaven landfill match the samples, the private company records show, with an engineer at one point stating the company was “lucky” the DEC didn’t challenge it.

The DEC on Monday didn't address the calls for the attorney general to investigate.

Covanta denies wrongdoing and says its ash has never been proved to be hazardous, or contributed to any environmental or health harm. Residents surrounding the landfill, primarily in North Bellport, which is majority Black and Latino, have complained about breathing and tasting ash that has blown from the landfill into their neighborhoods, and have worried about the potential impacts.

The DEC for two years has been investigating the ash Covanta dumped at the landfill. More than two dozen people who gathered outside the dump Monday — some holding signs reading "No Toxic Ash" — say the regulator cannot be trusted, since its own oversight is now under scrutiny. 

They cited Newsday's findings from the private correspondence, including DEC overlooking Covanta sending Brookhaven ash during a period in 2007 when its samples failed toxicity testing; Covanta’s DEC monitor in 2014 omitting negative information from inspection reports; and the monitor appearing to tip off the company it had a potential whistleblower.

Representatives of James’ office didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. The Attorney General's Office previously declined to intervene in and litigate the state whistleblower lawsuit that generated the internal Covanta documents. It also has declined Covanta’s requests to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in 2013 by former Covanta employee Patrick Fahey.

The DEC ultimately forced Covanta to change the way it handled its ash, ensuring what is sent to the landfill is reflective of testing samples. In 2019, responding to mounting community criticism, it also issued the landfill violations for failing to control odors from construction debris.

Responding to Newsday’s story, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement that the agency during his tenure, which began in 2015, has been “aggressive, science-based and responsive to community concerns.

“DEC is taking a hard look at past practices at the Brookhaven landfill and Covanta facility, and we are taking seriously information from a decade ago or more as it comes to light during the ongoing litigation,” Seggos said. “We will take action to address any violations we find.”

Covanta has said in lawsuit filings that ash practices in question were “either affirmatively disclosed to the government regulator responsible for environmental oversight … or were conducted in plain view of the on-site DEC monitors and other DEC personnel, who never found a violation.”

The company noted its environmental expert has reviewed test results from water that has seeped from landfill waste piles and found no elevated levels of lead or cadmium.

"After 10 years of scrutiny, there is no evidence that any ash delivered by Covanta to the Brookhaven landfill has ever caused any environmental contamination," Covanta spokeswoman Nicolle Robles said in a statement Monday.

North Bellport has levels more than double the Suffolk County rate of adult emergency department visits for asthma, according to state Department of Health data. More than two dozen people have sued Brookhaven trying to tie the landfill to their cancers and other illnesses.

No state agency has found widespread ash pollution from the Brookhaven landfill or a link from any landfill exposure to adverse health impacts.

Still, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said residents have never felt as if the state has seriously studied pollution, illness and the landfill.

"The bottom line here is that the regulators have failed to protect us," she said.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, speaking at an unrelated event Monday, told Newsday that he would “welcome” an investigation into the ash the landfill received.

“But obviously it shouldn’t be done by the DEC because they were being accused of not doing their jobs,” Romaine said.

With Carl MacGowan

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

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