Before an audience that is all too familiar with sickness, the Cheektowaga Town Board Monday night demanded that the state investigate whether building rubble secretly dumped in a Cheektowaga landfill two years ago was radioactive.
The board also called for the "temporary or permanent closure" of one of Western New York's biggest and busiest stone quarries until it can be determined if blasting causes leachate from hazardous waste buried in three nearby landfills to seep off site into the water table and streams.
"We're putting babies in caskets and burying them -- it's intolerable," said Council Member Patricia A. Jaworowicz, telling the audience of about 80 residents from the town's Bellevue neighborhood that she is frustrated that town government so far has been unable to help.
A few minutes earlier, Bellevue environmental activist Donna Hosmer dramatized her neighbors' plight by holding up the newspaper obituary of an 18-month-old child who died of cancer last week.
"This can't happen anymore -- for God's sake, this is a baby," Hosmer said, her voice breaking.
A door-to-door survey of about 250 homes in the Bellevue area off Como Park Boulevard, between Union and Borden roads, last year turned up about 70 cases of cancer in recent years as well as respiratory ailments and autoimmune diseases. It also triggered two ongoing health studies.
Many residents blame the landfills or the Buffalo Crushed Stone quarry, or both, for the area's health problems. The dumps and quarry are located about a half-mile apart, with Cayuga Creek flowing through the area in between.
The catalyst for the board's action Monday was the recent disclosure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped construction debris from a radioactive waste cleanup site in the Town of Tonawanda at the Schultz landfill at Indian Road and Broadway in 1998.
"Tonight, we are upping the ante as to what we feel the agencies above us must do to rectify the situation," said Council Member Thomas M. Johnson Jr., who sponsored the two resolutions approved by the Town Board.
The corps claimed the material was safe for disposal in the dump, but neighbors and some town officials are skeptical.
"They don't trust anyone anymore," Douglas Hlavaty of Bellevue told the board about his neighbors.
"It's totally wrong that they can come in to Cheektowaga and dump radioactive material without anyone's knowledge. Clean 'em up and close 'em down," he said to applause.
The board unanimously approved two resolutions on the issue. The first calls for the Schultz dump to be capped and sealed after an investigation is conducted to see if there is radioactive material there. If radioactive material is found, it must be removed, the measure states.
The board's other action was aimed at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It calls for studies on "the effects of blasting at the quarry on the migration of materials deposited in the landfills on Indian Road."
State and federal agencies must "take whatever action is necessary, including temporary or permanent closure of the quarry . . . (until studies show) that the blasting . . . has no effect on the health of nearby residents," the resolution said.
In other business Monday, the board -- as scheduled -- approved plans for a $70 million expansion at the Walden Galleria. Work slated to get under way this spring will add about 650,000 square feet in a new three-level building to what is already Western New York's largest shopping mall.