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State will test North Tonawanda properties near landfill for chemicals

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday that it will ask residents living near a Wheatfield landfill to allow soil and groundwater testing on their land.

More than 160 current and former residents of the North Tonawanda neighborhood near the Niagara Sanitation landfill have filed lawsuits or notices of claim against the Town of Wheatfield, which owns the landfill.

The Buffalo News reported last month that several residents of Forbes Street, Forbes Terrace and Nash Road in North Tonawanda have experienced severe health problems.

Their attorneys say that privately obtained soil samples have shown numerous chemicals, including dioxin, in their yards and in some cases, inside their homes.

The landfill is located off Nash Road in Wheatfield, just north of the North Tonawanda-Wheatfield border. The DEC's official position is that there is no evidence the landfill is leaking.

"New York is committed to ensuring communities across the state have safe, reliable access to drinking water, and I am directing DEC to expand their investigation and ensure no contamination from the Niagara Sanitation Landfill is impacting nearby residential properties," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a prepared statement Monday. "This investigation will move quickly and thoroughly to ensure that there are no impacts to surrounding homes from the landfill."

DEC spokesman Sean C. Mahar said there is no evidence drinking water in the neighborhood is contaminated. The water in Wheatfield is provided the Niagara County Water District, while North Tonawanda pumps its own water, but the source in both communities is the Niagara River. The most recent tests, in February, showed "non-detectable levels" of contaminants typically associated with landfills, the DEC said.

Residents feel 'trapped' by Wheatfield landfill, once home to Love Canal waste

Last month, the DEC began a new soil testing program within the landfill boundaries to confirm its contents and look for chemical migration, leading up to a remedial project targeted for 2019. The results of residential testing may affect that schedule.

"We'll have an availability session to talk to the community about that and detail the timeline as we get the plan finalized and get access to private properties. That'll give us an idea of the time frame moving forward," DEC spokesman Sean C. Mahar said.

Brett A. Grawe, who lives on Forbes Street and needs a transplant to replace his cancerous liver, said he would give permission for state testing at his home.

"As long as I'm present and I know what they're testing for, so we're comparing apples to apples," Grawe said.

He said residents have been abandoning their homes and leaving the neighborhood, and he's considering doing that himself. "I'm tired of walking around with headaches every day," Grawe said. Grawe is one of the parties to the first of what are expected to be several lawsuits filed against the Town of Wheatfield and past users of the landfill.

The landfill contains waste dumped by several industrial customers between 1955 and 1968. Just before the landfill closed in 1968, the state Department of Transportation moved about 1,600 cubic yards of waste there from the Love Canal landfill in Niagara Falls because it had been disturbed during the construction of the LaSalle Expressway.

The Love Canal waste, which had been buried in a separate trench within the landfill, was removed in the winter and spring of 2014-15 by a subsidiary of Occidental Chemical Co., acting on orders from the DEC. Occidental's corporate predecessor, Hooker Chemical Co., generated the Love Canal waste.

The DEC says that all the Love Canal waste was removed, but attorneys for the residents question that, saying that the waste found at the North Tonawanda homes is typical of the Love Canal material, which included cancer-causing dioxin.

The DEC's statement also announced that the state Dormitory Authority has approved Wheatfield's request for $75,000 to pay almost half the estimated cost of building a chain-link fence around the unprotected landfill, where off-road vehicle use over the years has damaged the cap on the chemicals.

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