DEC Slaps Casella and Ontario County With $500,000 Fine for Air and Water Quality Violations From 2015 to 2022

SENECA, Nov. 3, 2022 — Casella Waste Services and Ontario County have agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and take several corrective actions to resolve a series of air and water quality violations at the Ontario County Landfill between 2015 and 2022.

Under the recent consent order, Casella is required to continue making infrastructure improvements at the Ontario County Landfill, which is operates.

Those violations include 225 documented cases of excessive hydrogen sulfide in ambient air. The state’s third largest landfill was also cited for failing to install gas collection infrastructure and for multiple releases of toxic leachate and contaminated stormwater.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the fine in a press release Thursday, in which DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said:

“This enforcement action holds the parties responsible for years of violations and will invest in the community and Seneca Lake by directing a portion of the settlement to the city of Geneva to install a biofiltration system to treat odorous air at the solids handling system.”

Half the fine — $250,000 — will go toward that project at the Marsh Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Geneva. Another $220,000 will be paid to the state, while $30,000 will be suspended, pending the completion of the required corrective actions.

Mark Venuti

Casella will be responsible for paying the entire fine in accordance with its contract with the county, said Mark Venuti, Supervisor of the Town of Geneva and a member of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors.

“The city was looking to do an upgrade to control odors coming out of its wastewater treatment plant, and this money will allow us to do that,” Venuti said. “It’s an area of the city with lower income folks, so it’s a way to do some environmental justice.”

The required corrective actions are detailed in consent order signed by the DEC, Ontario County, New England Waste Services of N.Y. Inc., and Casella Waste Services of Ontario LLC.

The order also lists the following violations:

— Failure to construct stormwater swales, vegetate slopes, properly grade slopes and maintain stormwater ponds in 2017.

— Release of solid waste into the environment in January and April 2018.

— Inadequate cover of the landfill for several days in 2018.

— Improper release of leachate: 14 times between 2017 and 2021.

— Failure to maintain adequate freeboard in leachate lagoons for two weeks in 2021.

— Failure to install gas control infrastructure.

— Exceeding effluent limits 18 times between 2015 and 2021.

The landfill exceeded the one-hour ambient air quality standard of 0.010 parts per million for hydrogen sulfide more than 200 times, including 135 times between March 26, 2020 and March 13, 2022.

Dots on this 2019 map posted by ItStinks.org show were odor complaints originated. Ontario County Landfill is marked by skull and crossbones.

Odor complaints spiked in part because the landfill was accepting large shipments of odor-producing sludge. Those complaints spurred creation of a website, ItStinks.org, that posts the location on a map of anonymous complaints of odors from from both the Ontario County Landfill and Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo. The public activity triggered more rigorous enforcement by the DEC, culminating in the Ontario consent order.

Larry Shilling, Casella’s regional landfill manager, said the fine was “finalization of a consent order that had been circulating for years. They pretty much said everything they need to say in the press release.”

Larry Shilling

The landfill has been operating under a Title V air permit that expired in December 2019. Because Casella applied to renew it in May 2019, the DEC has been authorized to allow the landfill to continue operating under the terms of the expired permit until the agency rules on the renewal application.

“I think (DEC) withheld approval while they went through these violations, and they weren’t going to give them a new permit until they resolved this, ” Venuti said. “They probably will get a renewal next year based on resolving these violations.”

Carla Jordan, Ontario County’s director of Sustainability and Solid Waste Management, did not return a phone call or respond to an email message today. Before joining the county work force, she worked for Casella.

The Ontario County Landfill covers 389 acres about five miles west of Geneva. It is located in the Town of Seneca on the south side of Routes 5 & 20.

Last month Seneca’s board voted 5-0 to close the landfill when its current solid waste management permit expires in 2028. It is expected to be at or near capacity by that time.

The landfill, which opened in 1974, is permitted to accept about 3,000 tons of waste per day, about 90 percent of which is imported from other counties. 

The landfill produced 26.1 million gallons of toxic leachate in 2021, which it exported to wastewater treatment plants in Webster, Canandaigua, Watertown, Steuben County, Ithaca, Geneva, Auburn and Buffalo, according to its annual report.

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