An environmental health expert said Wednesday that residents of the Bellevue section of Cheektowaga have good reason to worry about the three landfills in their back yard -- two of them closed hazardous-waste dumps.
That is because the clay caps on the landfills do not stop toxic leachate from entering the water table beneath them and possibly seeping to the nearby Buffalo Crushed Stone quarry off Como Park Boulevard and Union Road, said Dr. Jamson S. Lwebuga-Mukasa of Buffalo General Hospital and the University at Buffalo.
"It is very likely" that groundwater pumping operations at the quarry are "causing a faster spread of pollutants from the nearby landfills than was previously suspected," Lwebuga-Mukasa wrote in a report to the town.
Several hundred thousand gallons of water are pumped each day from the quarry to Cayuga Creek, which flows through residential neighborhoods en route to Buffalo Harbor, he noted.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Bellevue residents -- calling their neighborhood the town's "toxic triangle" -- announced plans to conduct a demonstration during a meeting of the Cheektowaga Town Board on Monday night.
Leaders of the newly formed Cheektowaga Citizen Coalition for a Safer Tomorrow said members will demand remedial action at the Integrated Waste Systems-Schultz landfill, where the Army Corps of Engineers dumped construction debris from a radioactive-waste cleanup in the Town of Tonawanda.
The Schultz landfill is sandwiched between two closed hazardous-waste landfills in the Broadway-Indian Road area, less than a mile northeast of the Bellevue neighborhood and the stone quarry.
Bellevue environmental activist Donna Hosmer said residents would not be satisfied until the corps' assertions that the debris dumped at Schultz was nonradioactive can be verified by independent inspection.
Studies of respiratory illnesses and cancer are being conducted in the Bellevue area. They were triggered by an informal survey last year showing that seemingly large numbers of respiratory ailments, autoimmune diseases and cancers in an area of about 400 households.
The recent revelation that Cheektowaga was also the dumping ground for building rubble from America's World War II atomic bomb program is being viewed by Bellevue residents as "the last straw," Hosmer said.
Thomas M. Johnson Jr., the Town Board's senior member, said Wednesday that the town will urge the state Department of Environmental Conservation to check the Schultz dump for radiation and, if any is found, order the material removed to a more secure disposal site.
Once the radioactivity issue is settled, the dump should be closed and sealed, with a leachate-collection system installed, Johnson said. "The residents deserve to know that it can no longer pose a threat to public health," he said.
Johnson said the town is also concerned about "the impact of the blasting (in the quarry) on the integrity of the landfills . . . (and) whether the vibrations cause the material that's supposed to be contained within them to migrate off-site."
Water beneath the landfills flows southwest toward the quarry more rapidly than it normally would to fill the space created when groundwater is pumped from the 100-foot-deep quarry, Lwebuga-Mukasa wrote in his report.
This action also dissolves the limestone more quickly, gradually enlarging over time the openings in rock layers through which the groundwater flows, he said.
Quarry water is pumped to Cayuga Creek, where people fish, and is a tributary to the Buffalo River and Buffalo Harbor, a source of public drinking water, Lwebuga-Mukasa said.
He said that "based on current information," groundwater may be the vehicle and the pumping from the quarry the catalyst in the spread of pollutants from the landfills.
"The problem needs to be studied because of its health implications, due to the long-lived toxic pollutants known to be contaminating groundwater in the area," wrote Lwebuga-Mukasa, director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure at Buffalo General.
DEC officials declined to comment on the report, saying they had not yet seen it. Buffalo Crushed Stone officials could not be reached to comment.