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Editorial: Health problems for landfill's neighbors set off alarm bells

The cascade of health problems in one North Tonawanda neighborhood demands a thorough investigation to determine whether environmental causes are to blame.

The residents of Forbes Street live next to the Niagara Sanitation landfill, which covers 18.7 acres off Nash Road in Wheatfield, just north of the North Tonawanda city line.

Residents and their lawyers suspect that the high incidence of health issues is directly connected to the landfill.

Brett A. Grawe and his family, along with 63 of their current and former neighbors, have filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the Town of Wheatfield, which owns the old Niagara Sanitation Co., and several companies believed to have dumped industrial waste there in the 1960s or earlier.

Grawe and his wife, Rebecca, and their four children all have medical issues of varying degrees. His is the most serious: Cancer is destroying his liver. The 51-year-old was diagnosed with a liver disease in 2014; the diagnosis changed to cancer in November 2015.

The residents believe that exposure to toxic waste leaking from the landfill has resulted in their serious health issues. The state Department of Environmental Conservation told a reporter that there is no proof the landfill leaks.

It is unusual for all six family members to have rare health problems, according to Jeffrey C. Miecznikowski, an associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. However, that doesn’t prove the landfill is to blame.

But then there is the Love Canal connection.

In the summer of 1968, the state Department of Transportation moved about 1,600 cubic yards of material from the Love Canal landfill to Niagara Sanitation. The Love Canal waste wasn’t removed until 2015, although, as News Niagara reporter Thomas J. Prohaska reported, an attorney for the families contends not all of it was removed.

For the families, many in the grip of serious illness, it is a damning set of circumstances.

The DEC declared the site hazardous in December 2015. It has begun further soil testing at the landfill, and an agency spokesman said it will test outside the landfill’s borders if the results determine that is necessary.
It is finally a start to determining whether residents are suffering the effects of living next to a landfill.

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