Rensselaer County Bill Would Limit Dewey Loeffel Pollutant In Waterways

Oct 12, 2017

Rensselaer County has advanced a proposed local law designed to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to cease the discharge of an emerging contaminant from a federal Superfund site.

The EPA operates a treatment facility near the Dewey Loeffel landfill to remove the chemical 1, 4 dioxane, a suspected carcinogen, from groundwater.

Treated water is discharged into the Valatie Kill, which runs through portions of Rensselaer and Columbia counties.

While acknowledging that there are detections of 1, 4 dioxane, the agency maintains that the filtration system is working correctly, and it regularly tests 1, 4 dioxane and other chemicals.

EPA does provide reports to municipalities.

But the Rensselaer County legislature is considering a bill that would place pressure on the EPA to prevent any discharge that contains an elevated amount of the chemical.

Outgoing Republican Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino said 1, 4 dioxane is what’s known as an “emerging contaminant.”

“There’s no regulation at the state or federal level. We felt we needed to take action at the local level to limit the amount of 1, 4 dioxane that’s going back into the environment,” said Jimino.

The legislature would set a .35 parts per billion threshold for 1, 4 dioxane on treated discharge. If passed, the local law would require EPA to test for the chemical weekly and report findings to the Rensselaer County Department of Health.  

While there is an EPA advisory level for 1, 4 dioxane in drinking water, there is no such federal guidance for ground water.

Jimino said the county looked to other governments for their guidance level and adopted Colorado’s .35 ppb threshold.

“And they had a lot of science behind that number that made us feel that that is a confident level that can be discharged into the environment without causing health problems,” said Jimino.

The Dewey Loeffel site in the Town of Nassau was a dumping ground for industrial waste in the 1950s and 60s.

EPA has a long history at the site, a federal Superfund. Recently, the agency announced that it would work with General Electric to remove toxic PCBs from a ravine that flows into the Valatie Kill. EPA told WAMC the cleanup is not meant to address 1, 4 dioxane.

The legacy of pollution at the site has frustrated local officials. David Fleming is Nassau Town Supervisor.

“We have enough contamination at the Loeffel site. We don’t need to be contaminating anything else. And honestly, the EPA’s position that the solution to pollution is dilution is not acceptable. Our natural resources in the Town of Nassau, our natural resources in Rensselaer County should not be used to dilute contamination inflicted on our residents.”

Liz Moran, Water and Natural Resources Associate at Environmental Advocates of New York, says she grew up near the Valatie Kill and that the waterway is frequented by nearby residents.

“And I knew a lot of kids that I went to school with that would swim in the Valatie Kill. People can be seen fishing in the Valatie Kill. People walk along the banks. It’s a relatively rural area and these waterways are a resource for recreation and food in these communities.”

Moran said it’s up to local congressional representatives to push for regulation of chemicals like 1, 4 dioxane, and PFOA, found in nearby Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

Moran is also worried about budget cuts that could hamper EPA’s response in communities across the country. The Trump administration has proposed a federal budget that would slash EPA funding by a third.

The EPA says it will review the bill proposed in the Rensselaer County legislature that is scheduled for a vote in November.