NEW SPRINGVILLE — Staten Islanders have not forgotten the stench from the Fresh Kills Landfill, and now, more than 16 years after the dump was closed, local politicians are calling on the city to determine if those smells were also dangerous.
"The odor of a landfill is caused by particulate matter in the air, so if you were smelling the landfill as you grew up or lived on Staten Island there's a chance that you inhaled particulate matter," Councilman Joe Borelli said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Borelli issued his own preliminary report and, with Councilman Steven Matteo, called on the city to allocate $500,000 for the Department of Health or the City University of New York to perform a comprehensive study on negative health issues for residents who lived within five miles of Fresh Kills when it was open. The funds should come from some of the tens of millions of dollars the city has been paid by energy companies that buy the methane gas generating from the site.
His report issued Tuesday says Staten Islanders have higher rates for several cancers and birth defects that were previously linked to people who lived near other hazardous waste sites around the world.
Borelli said he knew this was only basic, correlative findings, but it showed enough potential issues that warrants a deeper study by scientists. "We acknowledge that it's amateur," he said. "We feel this is enough evidence to support funding."
For the report, Borelli's office looked at previous scientific studies of health effects for residents who lived near hazardous waste sites in places such as Montreal, New York State and Europe then compiled a list of diseases people were found to have a higher risk of.
They looked through the city's DOH records and found that Staten Islanders had higher rates for some — such as Down syndrome, thyroid cancer, cleft palate, bladder cancer and more — than the rest of the city.
A more comprehensive study would help elected officials determine what health issues Staten Islanders have a higher risk for so they can try to provide free screenings or make sure local hospitals knew to test for them, Matteo said.
"We should find out what effects the dump had and then use that as a roadmap to provide the services to Staten Islanders," said Matteo. "We should be able to put in $500,000 for a study that's this important."
Fresh Kills opened as a landfill in 1948 and got its last barge of garbage in 2001. It was reopened again after 9/11 to receive debris from the World Trade Center.
The city last studied adverse health issues for Staten Island residents near Fresh Kills in 1997, but its sample size was small and it was before 9/11, Borelli said.
Since its closure, the city has worked to transform the landfill into a nearly 2,200-acre park that has been opening up in sections with the full site expected to open in 2036.
Borelli stressed they're not worried about current negative effects from the site since the city capped the landfill, but only from when the site was still an active dump.
If funded, they expect the study would take several years to complete.
The politicians are pushing the city to put the money in the budget, but said they would try to get it funded another way this year if unsuccessful.
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.