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Dump shouldn’t be in Niagara County at all, much less be allowed to expand

Question: If there were no toxic waste dump already operating on the doorstep of both the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, would officials today suggest putting one there?

Answer: Only if they were gluttons for punishment. That’s why the existing dump there shouldn’t be expanded, despite the consequential loss of $500,000 in additional tax revenue to the Town of Porter.

The location of the only hazardous waste landfill in the entire Northeast is one of the worst imaginable. Not only do its toxic contents percolate next to a critical water system – one that accounts for 21 percent of the world’s fresh water – it is even closer to the collection of buildings that make up the Lewiston-Porter School District, which serves about 2,300 students.

Plainly, this kind of operation should be in no one’s back yard, let alone the back yards that make up this sensitive ecological and educational landscape.

Some of the nation’s worst refuse has been handled by this landfill: anthrax-contaminated furniture, PCB contaminants dredged from the Hudson River, toxic samples pulled from Love Canal, lead- and asbestos-contaminated fill from the Erie County Medical Center property and hundreds of tons of contaminated soil, concrete, clay tile and other materials from a recent hazardous materials cleanup in Rochester.

Not only are these and other materials being contained in this area, but they are trucked to the site along a two-lane road past the Lew-Port schools. It’s a preposterous location, and one that would never survive scrutiny if the landfill was being initially sited today.

And that, of course, is the point. The landfill is already here, built on the site of the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, which began receiving radioactive wastes and residues in 1944 as part of the development of the atomic weapons that were used on Japan to end World War II. Politically, it is much easier to build a companion hazardous waste landfill adjacent to this nearly full facility than to try to site a new one.

But that can’t be the point. While the landfill has apparently operated safely, it simply doesn’t belong in this location. There is no point in doubling down on the risk that plainly exists, despite assurances that toxic chemicals will not leak from the site, potentially to contaminate the Niagara River, Lake Ontario or 2,300 school children.

Western New York has done its part and then some, regarding its exposure to hazardous wastes. Between this landfill, the West Valley nuclear storage site in Cattaraugus County and other contaminated locations, we have met any reasonable obligation to help keep the rest of the country clean and safe.

It is now time to find another, more appropriate location to dump materials that no person wants to have anywhere near his back yard.

The region’s state and federal legislative delegations need to make that clear and work on behalf of the people and the environment of Western New York to prevent expansion of the landfill.