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Update New York's laws on dumping of construction debris

Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood in 2015. The

Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood in 2015. The park was closed for three years due to illegal dumping. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Illegal dumping is an insidious business. That was made clear by painstaking investigative reporting recently in Newsday.

The story by Paul LaRocco tracked the flow of contaminated debris, mostly from construction sites in New York City, to more than a dozen locations on Long Island, including a school, a park and private homes. It documented the presence of hazardous substances like lead, pesticides and asbestos in fill that was billed as clean and dumped in places where the chemicals could filter down to our sole-source aquifer — and places where children play. It showed how the perpetrators of this poisonous con game — general contractors, subcontractors, waste brokers, dumpers — point the finger of blame elsewhere as they deny responsibility. Motivation for this vile behavior is money — avoiding fees that must be paid for the proper disposal of contaminated material.

It was a searing reminder that changes must be made to our laws and regulations to help those trying to stop illegal dumping.

Electronic tracking from construction site to dumping ground is essential, so everyone in the process — participants, law enforcement, the state Department of Environmental Conservation — knows what’s going on with every load. Criminal statutes should be updated to include the concept of strict liability, so defendants are liable whether or not they know debris is contaminated. That’s a strong incentive to know what you’re carting and disposing. And penalties must be stiffened.

A special grand jury convened by Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, who has targeted illegal dumping, is nearing the end of its term. Its report will recommend legislative changes. Lawmakers should heed this call. Those fighting this scourge need all the tools they can get. — The editorial board

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