By JOHN HOWELL It dates back more than 40 years, but Larry Coletta remembers the trucks from New Jersey as if it was yesterday. They would arrive in the evening or under the cover of night. "They were over there. There was some kind of a pond back
It dates back more than 40 years, but Larry Coletta remembers the trucks from New Jersey as if it was yesterday.
They would arrive in the evening or under the cover of night.
“They were over there. There was some kind of a pond back there,” he says, pointing to a grassy area some 500 feet away from the trees and shrubs reaching up from the embankment in back of his house on Hamilton Avenue.
After backing up, drivers would open the valves on the tanker trucks, disgorging their chemical contents.
“I always say that’s where Jimmy Hoffa is,” Coletta says of the former 36-acre Truk-Away Landfill at the end of Industrial Drive. The landfill operated from 1970 to 1978. It was closed when the state Department of Transportation, which then operated Green Airport, deemed it a hazard to aircraft because of the seagulls it attracted. The state acquired the property.
Hoffa’s remains weren’t found on the former landfill when GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. of Providence conducted the most recent study of the site for the Department of Environmental Management. Not to Coletta’s surprise, the report that was recently released details the detection of a wide range of chemicals, metals and pesticides in addition to solid waste. However, with few exceptions – those being arsenic, chlorobenzene, naphthalene, dichlorobenzene and some other pesticides – the levels of contaminants in the ground and groundwater are at or below regulatory levels, according to the report.
In what would appear to be good news for the Buckeye Brook watershed, GZA says in its opinion “there is a low potential for significant risk of harm to ecological receptors in the adjacent wetlands.”
Coletta wonders if this can be true. Members of his family, like many of the area north of Strawberry Field Road and bordered by the former Leesona and former industrial dumping grounds including the Truk-Away Landfill, have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or cancer.
His daughter, Lauren Louth, has MS. The husband of their immediate neighbor who has lived in there for more than 40 years has had two forms of cancer, and their son is battling cancer now.
A survey conducted by the Warwick Beacon of the broader neighborhood about 20 years ago found an unusually high proportion of MS cases. Neither the state Department of Health nor the MS Society could make a correlation between the dumping of hazardous materials and the disease, although they said contaminants could be a factor. They termed the high concentration of the disease “a cluster.”
In an email, Philip D’Ercole, facilitator of the Friends of Warwick Ponds, scores the GZA conclusion of low potential for significant risk or harm as “worthless opinions … because we know these chemicals are still present at this site and have the potential to leach into the wetlands.” He is also critical of GZA’s recommended means of dealing with the former landfill.
GZA offers three remedial alternatives, including no action, institutional controls and site capping and institutional controls.
GZA finds no further action alternative as “not considered protective of human health and the environment; and does not address applicable regulatory requirements.” As for institutional controls that would prohibit future groundwater use and limit the land to industrial/commercial activities, the report concludes this would not address existing landfill conditions of both steep and flat slopes and poor drainage.
GZA recommends a low permeability cap of the landfill so that “all areas of the site that received solid waste are provided with a cap thickness of not less than two feet” to limit filtration through the soil. The report also calls for the re-grading of the property and the use of vents for the release of methane and other gases.
D’Ercole said the recommended action falls short of what needs to be done.
“It appears to the residents who live in and adjacent to this site, that the hazardous waste still exists and will continue to be a health and safety risk. It is in the residents’ opinion that there is potential for significant risk of harm to ecological receptors (us) in the adjacent wetlands,” he wrote in a letter sent to state officers and legislators, Mayor Joseph Solomon, members of the City Council and to the congressional delegation.
He asks that the state do the “right thing by physically removing the waste.”
D’Ercole said last Rep. Deborah Ruggiero of Jamestown/Middletown was the only official to acknowledge the letter.
“This culture [of no responses] has got to stop. I want to work with these people but they’re making it very difficult,” he said.
Mayor Joseph J. Solomon was familiar with the report. He said Tuesday that spoils from the clearing of Buckeye Brook – a project aimed at reducing the level of Warwick Pond – had been considered as additional cover for the landfill, but that has been ruled out. He did not have information on how the state intends to proceed with the landfill.
Coletta is a veteran of fighting the landfill. When the operation started encroaching on a 200-foot wooded buffer, he was among those leading the charge to halt it. He brought dead rats along with giant cockroaches in jars from the landfill to City Hall. The councilman at the time, Greg Pellicano, joined the charge, and it wasn’t long before former mayor Eugene McCaffrey toured the landfill and put a stop to the expansion. During that time, the alarm was also raised about Buckeye Brook, which had developed a growth of slimy scum that clung in long tendrils from branches and rocks downstream from the landfill. The water was clear but seemingly devoid of life.
D’Ercole has no doubt that water leaching through the landfill continues to impact the brook. He questions if the study was performed “to placate us … to do the very least.” He reasons the landfill should have been identified as a Superfund site and then federal funding to clean it up would have been available.
Asked what the state intends to do with the report, the Department of Environmental Management referred questions to the Department of Administration, as the DOT retains environmental liability for the site.
In an email, Robert Dulski, public information officer at the Department of Administration, wrote: “The State is still reviewing the Site Investigation Report for the Former Truk-Away Landfill, which was completed by GZA in July 2020. Based on the report, the State has requested additional follow-up work from GZA. Until this additional work is completed, no timeline or budget can be set for remediation efforts.”
Dulski had not responded to a question as to what additional work the state is requesting of GZA by deadline Wednesday.