Brookhaven Town has agreed to pay a $249,166 fine and better monitor noxious gases emanating from the town landfill as part of a settlement with U.S. authorities over decade-old charges that the dump had violated the federal Clean Air Act.
The United States Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which jointly announced the settlement Thursday in a news release, had accused the town of long-standing failures to monitor and control gases such as methane, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The gases are nonlethal but their odors can sicken neighbors and passersby.
"The United States brought this action to ensure that the Town of Brookhaven meets its obligation to protect air quality by properly operating systems that reduce potentially harmful landfill gas emissions," Seth D. DuCharme, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, which includes Long Island, said in a statement. "This office will vigorously and faithfully enforce the rule of law to protect our community and our precious natural environment."
Town officials said Thursday the issues raised in the lawsuit already had been addressed with the installation and improvement of control and monitoring systems at the landfill.
As part of the settlement, Brookhaven will install 350 solar panels at the landfill, expected to generate 129 kilowatts of electricity for landfill operations.
The 192-acre landfill on Horseblock Road in Brookhaven hamlet takes in incinerated household trash from waste-to-energy plants and construction and demolition debris from local contractors. The landfill is slated to close in 2024, when it is expected to reach capacity.
The landfill has a system designed to reduce hydrogen sulfide in gas emissions before excess gas is burned off by a flare. Town officials say the system is activated automatically when hydrogen sulfide reaches unacceptably high levels.
The Justice Department and EPA statement said Brookhaven violated the Clean Air Act by failing to continuously operate the system. The statement said the town also failed to maintain proper temperatures in the landfill, thus causing a potential risk for underground fires, and did not properly monitor surface methane emissions.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a critic of Brookhaven's landfill management, said the settlement was "a little tap on the wrist, which is insufficient." She said hydrogen sulfide also carries other volatile chemicals such as benzene.
"It’s not only harmful and an irritant, but it carries with it other toxic chemicals. That is why a landfill like this needs to be properly managed, because it has a clear impact on public health," she said. "The sooner the town closes the landfill, the healthier and safer the community will be."
Brookhaven last year was ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for odor violations at the landfill in late 2018.
The town faces a state lawsuit from two dozen teachers, students and neighbors of a Bellport school a mile from the landfill who say the facility has caused illnesses such as cancer and respiratory diseases.