DIGGING DEEPER: How landfill wastewater contaminates the Susquehanna River

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ENDICOTT (WBNG) — Dangerous pollution is infiltrating one of the Southern Tier’s most essential rivers. Liquid runoff from the Broome County Landfill is sent to Endicott where it’s treated and discharged to the Susquehanna River, which we know serves as a drinking water source for thousands of people.

The Broome County Landfill is home to more than five million tons of waste and counting. “Some of it is just regular household garbage so what you would throw out in your kitchen we take construction demolition debris we also take hazardous waste on electronics here that we will send out for proper handling,” said Broome County Landfill Director Debra Smith.

While most of the trash stays at the landfill, the liquid runoff from all the waste does not.

“As the garbage breaks down you have a lot of organic material in it,” said Smith. This landfill liquid is called leachate and it contains harmful contaminants. After some initial treatment, it travels through pipes to The Village of Endicott Water Pollution Control Plant.

“What we’re doing for the majority is recycling wastewater water is a limited source on planet earth there’s only so much of it,” said Endicott Water Pollution Control Plant Chief Operator Philip Grayson. He helps ensure the landfill liquid is treated and tested before it’s discharged to the river.

Grayson said at the plant they check for contaminants like lead, iron, cyanide and volatile organic compounds, which he confirmed are detected in the incoming landfill leachate. That’s why it’s so important for the plant to treat the landfill liquid and remove those contaminants.

“That wastewater quickly comes into our facility assimilates with the rest of the influent and its handle and treated,” said Grayson.

The problem is that wastewater can’t always be treated effectively. Storms and flooding can greatly impact the treatment of the landfill liquid and sewage at the plant. While flows at the plant are typically eight million gallons per day, the facility can handle a maximum of 16 million according to Grayson. During storms or heavy rains, however, he said an excess of 40 million gallons of liquid can enter the facility. When that happens, Grayson explained some of that wastewater will have to bypass the secondary treatment process, meaning the landfill liquid isn’t being completely cleaned before its discharged.

“There’s no doubt that when we exceed 16 million gallons we’re not able to achieve the same level of treatment,” said Grayson. And that’s not all. The Susquehanna River serves as a drinking water source for thousands of people.

Grayson added, “There’s no one in New York state after Binghamton that’s drinking from the Susquehanna river but in Pennsylvania peoples drinking water that’s the Susquehanna River and that’s not lost upon me that’s not lost upon my staff.”

Right now, it’s a problem with no clear solution in sight. According to Grayson, the plant is operating under a Department of Environmental Conservation permit and is meeting all required standards.

A private company in Endicott also treats and discharges a small portion of the Broome County Landfill wastewater to lighten the load on the Endicott water pollution control plant.

Chloe Vincente

Chloe Vincente

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