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Ohioans wary of New York plans to send trash out-of-state

A disposal employee places residential garbage into a rear loading trash truck.
Rogelio V. Solis
A disposal employee places residential garbage into a rear loading trash truck.

New York’s trash is not — or it should not be — Ohio’s problem.

“As a lifelong Fostoria resident I feel compelled to speak out,” said Joy Walters to the May 30 City Council meeting in the small Ohio community. “Everyone is aware of the negative impact the landfill has caused. ... We have a future of fear and risk heading our way, with the recent permit approval of 2,000 more tons a day coming from Brookhaven, NY.”

The Brookhaven Landfill has been collecting Long Island’s garbage, as well as construction and demolition waste, since 1974. As it approaches capacity, a pressing question has emerged: where will Long Island’s garbage go?

The Sunny Farms Landfill in Fostoria, Ohio is one of the destinations set to receive Long Island’s waste after the planned closure of Brookhaven. Residents of nearby communities are frustrated and worried about the potential harm Long Island’s garbage will bring. The Ohio landfill already handles large volumes of waste from other areas.

“The same waste stream that created a cancer cluster in their community is now headed to Fostoria,” continued Walters, addressing the city councilors. “We do not deserve to live in fear for our children and grandchildren’s health…For over a decade the community has asked how this was allowed to happen to our community. To this day, no one knows who actually made this decision for us. The citizens here were never given notice, public comment, a hearing or a vote to accept the east coast trash.”

Ohioans are also closely watching how New York plans to curb the amount of waste it sends out of state.

A draft statewide waste management plan seeks to reduce the 12% of greenhouse gases generated by waste in New York. That percentage increases significantly when climate leaders consider the combined consequences of transporting waste out of state. So, New York wants to find other ways to reduce, reuse and recycle the trash it produces.

Transferring that waste off the island by rail is being promoted by industry leaders as an environmentally friendly solution.

“We could get even more trucks off of the street, which would result in less air pollution and greater efficiency,” said Will Flower, senior vice president of waste disposal company Winter Bros. “For every one rail car that you use, you can take five trucks off of the roadway.”

A proposed Winters Bros. rail terminal, warehouse and recycling facility would be built on a 228-acre plot of land in Yaphank near the landfill. If the facility goes ahead, over 6,000 tons of Long Island trash will be delivered by truck daily to the Yaphank site. From there, it will be transferred by rail to landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as Fostoria, Ohio.

Meanwhile, residents of Fostoria learned earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request about plans to advance another proposed waste transfer station in Medford.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation revealed in February it will allow Peconic Environmental Services and Gershwin Recycling to receive construction and demolition debris six days a week at its Medford-based scrap metal recycling plant.

This facility too could be used to transfer waste by rail to Ohio, among other destinations.

The proposals could further shift the burden onto other low-income and minority communities.

“That’s a hard ‘no’ from BLARG and myself personally,” said Monique Fitzgerald of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group. Her group is in touch with one of the affected communities in Fostoria. “We are in complete solidarity with them.”

“We currently bring in 7,500 tons a day by rail from out of state, and our own local waste accounts for only 2% in our landfill. … They [local government] want to expand to 12,000 tons a day — making us the largest landfill in the country,” said Lora Wolph, a member of the Greater Fostoria Environmental Coalition. “Our community will collapse if this doesn’t stop.”

She added, “We get contaminated soil, industrial and residual waste, toxic ash, medical waste, sludge, automotive fluff, and construction and demolition mixed with municipal solid waste. The gypsum drywall led to extremely high levels of hydrogen sulfide that led to illness and inability to go outside for years.”

The group has created a Facebook page dedicated to airing complaints and other dirty laundry related to the garbage dump. “The contaminate in the air has a smell that is reminiscent of burnt matches and burnt plastic,” Karl Walter posted on Facebook in 2021.

“I would like nothing more than to open a window and to take in some fresh air. That is if there was any fresh air outside to be had,” he continued.

“I literally live on the south side and smell it ALL the time,” posted Alexis Cearra. “Especially in the summer! My father lives more out that way and he says the same! It’s horrible and so foul during the hot summer days I can’t even open my windows. Disgusting.”

Other groups with similar concerns have emerged: Citizens Against Lafarge’s Lordstown Landfill (Warren, Ohio), Ditch the Dump (Hamilton County, Ohio) and the Ohio Solid Waste Caucus.

The East Palestine train derailment in February, which sent residents fleeing from toxic chemicals, has added to their concerns.

“Leaking railcars travel through our towns every day with little to no daily oversight,” Wolph said. “All they need to do is decrease the allowed daily tonnage to a reasonable amount and we’d have plenty of capacity for the small amount we produce locally.”

The issue is being raised in the Ohio statehouse. Senate Bill 199, which is under consideration in committee, would allow local input into landfill decisions, and increase fees for dumping out-of-state trash from the statutory rates that have been in effect since 1992.

It would also strengthen local health districts by matching their oversight funding to the size and scale of landfills in their area.

“My constituents have been struggling with trash coming in from out of state, mostly from New York through our beautiful countryside into Fostoria in Seneca County. Most of this has occurred without any meaningful oversight or supervision from local or state officials," said State Senator Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) in a statement introducing the legislation.

In 2021, more than 30 students from Fostoria Junior/Senior High School, and other Ohio residents, wrote to the Town of Brookhaven and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to oppose the Medford transfer facility proposal because of its potential impact on their community.

The state agency responded to the comments on Feb 15. upon issuing the permit — most comments were from Ohio.

One comment simply stated, “Sunny Farms is unfit to accept the waste.” The state responded that it lacked the authority and is following Ohio’s regulations that have renewed the landfill’s license yearly since 2019.

The public comment period on New York’s draft waste management plan was extended to June 29 — and Ohio is sure to have something to say.

Contributing reporting by Harriet Jones and J.D. Allen.

WSHU’s Trash Talkin’ series is produced in collaboration with Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism.