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May 25
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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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May 25, 2009

The Orange Leachate Of Rapp Road

Looking at the poisonous runoff from the
Albany “Landfill” and where it ends up

We’ve been hearing a lot about some of the collateral damage caused by the Albany Dump, officially called the Rapp Road “Landfill.” The persistent decaying sewage smell is one of the more spectacular negative effects that we’ve been hearing about This particular problem has mobilized some of the nearby victims of this odor to work hard to shut down The Dump, including victims such as the mayor of the Village of Colonie, Frank Leek.

Then there’s the applied poison problem, uncovered by Save the Pine Bush volunteer Grace Nichols. The Dump, you see, is full of rats, and the caretakers of The Dump regularly hire a contractor to put out a lot of rat killing chemicals. But the rats (and other creatures) eat the chemicals, raptor birds and coyotes eat the rats, and the poison spreads throughout the Pine Bush food chains. (The City tried to deny this charge, Grace proved their denials were bogus.)

There’s the financial fallout of The Dump, how the available evidence shows that The Dump costs the City taxpayers more than it brings in. There’s the methane, which in some parts of the Dump is so concentrated in the air that it is a wonder it has never ignited and exploded. And let’s not forget the stunning visual impact, as any Thruway traveler entering our City from the west can testify.

Water Tainted With Orange Leachate From The Dump
Water Tainted With Orange Leachate From The Dump

But oddly enough, there hasn’t been much interest in taking a look at the horrible toxic sludge that pours out of The Dump every single day. The word for this terrible crap is “leachate.” Most dumps both active and inactive manufacture this leachate deep within their airless bowels and it is usually a strange dirty orange color.

Officially, allegedly, this orange leachate is “collected” into the City of Albany sewer system to be cleaned before being poured into the Hudson River. Now, I’ve always wondered how you collect runoff from a sprawling ever-expanding dump sitting on sand over an aquifer. Seems a tall order to me., especially since on my visits to The Dump I have never seen any visible evidence of this alleged collection system.

Anybody who can stand to stroll around the perimeter of The Dump can see quite plainly that this leachate runs into streams and into the ground. Until recently, hardly any responsible concerned citizens have wanted to get close enough to examine the Rapp Road leachate, thus this source of pollution has been mostly a secret of the government.

Tim Truscott Collects A Sample
Tim Truscott Collects A Sample

Recently Save the Pine Bush (SPB) volunteers Bert Schou and Tim Truscott have been gone hunting to find the orange leachate, returning from the wilderness with photos and sludge samples in recycled glass jars. Some of Bert’s photos can be seen here, Tim’s disgusting looking water samples have been sent for testing. Both photos and jars were on display at the SPB table at the Tulip Festival in Washington Park a few weeks ago.

Strange to say, Tim only had the samples that he collected tested for heavy metals and other poisons. These particular samples, which he collected this past March, only showed highly elevated levels of arsenic. I think it very likely that samples collected at different times and at different locations around the Dump are sure to yield elevated levels of everything deadly from mercury to cadmium to dioxin.

The dedicated SPB volunteers, strange to say, have not had the Rapp Road leachate tested for harmful bacteria such as e coli, or for fecal coliform. From what I understand the volunteers were told by the outfit that tested the samples for metals to not bother testing for bacteria. But I say, these samples need to be tested for everything.

This past year a bunch of high school students in Duanesburg outside Schenectady wondered about the orange leachate pouring into the creeks from their little closed and capped dump. Sure enough, their leachate contained extraordinarily high levels of e. coli and fecal coliform. Naturally, the Town of Duanesburg elected officials were caught by surprise, not by the revelations about the contents of the leachate but by the students who cared enough to take action.

Defenders and promoters of pollution (pollutionists) are fond of saying that the orange color of the leachate comes from iron, from rust. This is obvious nonsense, that would mean there is an awful lot of iron reacting with oxygen in that dump if rust is pouring out. If anything, the majority item in the Dump is probably petroleum byproducts, such as plastics.

From what I understand, the orange color is created by anaerobic bacteria, that is, bacteria that does not use oxygen. (There is very little oxygen inside a dump, thus there is very little decay.) The chemical reactions caused by these bacteria metabolizing anaerobically releases a lot of stray iron molecules that normally would not unbind from other molecules.

Basically, this leachate that we are seiing pour out of The Dump is packed with dead bacteria, their bloated microscopic bodies tainted with iron, which is a waste product of their metabolizing. In other words, the orange color is bacterial poop. Unfortunately, there is also plenty of live bacteria among the dead, enough to be a serious health hazard.

Frog Attempting To Live With Leachate
Frog Attempting To Live With Leachate

A simple visual inspection reveals that this orange leachate drains into Resselaer Lake, also known as Six Mile Waterworks. The City website describes this attraction thus:

Today, Six Mile Waterworks is a recreational oasis offering fishing, boating, hiking, picnicking and a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday City life. Tucked away in a tiny corner of the City, the 57-acre park boasts picnic tables, grills, expanded parking facilities and a sparkling new state-of-the-art playground facility. Rensselaer Lake is stocked several times each year with fish from the City’s Alcove Reservoir, said to be home to some of the biggest fish in the Capital District.

Let’s go fishing! Every July for the past five years The Wife has swum 325 yards through this water while participating in the Pine Bush Triathlon. I’m beginning to fear for her life. I don’t recall seeing any signs in the park indicating that the Current Mayor of Albany has poisoned the lake with runoff leachate from His “landfill.”

The lake water, loaded with e. coli and fecal coliform and probably lots of poisonous substances besides arsenic pours over a dam and into Patroon Creek, which in turn empties into the Hudson. According to the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC) poor miserable Patroon Creek is an open sewer. Their data shows that the spot in the Hudson River where the Patroon Creek empties displays a tremendous spike in e. coli and fecal coliform.

Swimmers Emerging From  Rensselaer Lake, Pine Bush Triathlon
Swimmers Emerging From
Rensselaer Lake, Pine Bush Triathlon

The other day a headline in the Daily Gazette warned that because of the dredging up in Stillwater, those of us who live downstream should not come in contact with Hudson River water for a while. There would probably be, the State said, an elevated level of GE PCBs in the water. I almost laughed at that.

The Hudson River water around the City of Albany is an a epidemiological hazard. On the north we have Patroon Creek dumping runoff from Jerry Jennings’ Dump, and on the south side of the City we have Albany Medical Center apparently dumping raw sewage via the Beaverkill. Forget about the GE PCBs and the dioxin, those deadly poisons been suspended in the water for a long time. These bacteria from raw sewage can start epidemics.

No wonder the amount of disease causing agents in the Hudson River water goes exponential by the time the water gets to the Port of Albany in the South End. By the way, the Town of Bethlehem, which is immediately south of the Port of Albany, draws it’s drinking water from the Hudson. Sure, sure, they draw it from the “aquifer under the river” which is supposed to filter out disease and poisons. Personally, I would not recommend drinking tap water in Bethlehem. At all.

Leachate Tainted Water Running Away To Rensselaer Lake
Leachate Tainted Water Running Away To Rensselaer Lake

Of course, runoff into the Hudson via Rensselaer Lake is only part of the problem. The Rapp Road Dump sits on top of that beautiful Pine Bush sand, which is mighty porous. Any liquid that lands on that sand goes straight down until it hits something hard, that’s why the Pine Bush on top resembles a desert ecology.

Some parts of The Dump sport some kind of liner underneath the piles of crap, either clay or plastic. Even assuming the liners are impenetrable and will never degrade (of course they do!) we still have the problem of the leachate running over the edges of the liners and into the sand. The City officials can mutter all they want about runoff collection and liners but they won’t do a damn thing about the stuff that gets away.

Thanks to Jerry Jennings, The Dump receives a lot of sludge from sewage treatment plants and other sewage processing operations. Basically these processing operations extract usable organic material from the sewage, leaving behind a concentrated waste product full of everything deadly and toxic. This waste product, distilled and rejected by other “landfills” comprises much of the bulk of what gets imported into Rapp Road.

What a great business model, operating the Dump at a loss, importing concentrated toxic waste rejected by other dumps and allowing it to poison the water throughout the City and beyond. Did I mention that the aquifer under The Rapp Road Dump is supposed to be an emergency backup drinking supply? No? Let’s hope we don’t have any emergencies.

Frog in polluted water

Our elected officials are operating this City like a corporation, trying to create whatever environmental depredations they can get away with, acting like they are totally unaware of the concept of personal responsibility. And acting like corporate exploiters, the our City elected officials can operate The Dump at a loss because there are always taxpayers to make up the difference.

Okay, so we the people are the board of directors of this failed corporation. It’s high time we ousted the CEO and His band of minions who are in control. We need to kick the freeloaders out of our house. After that we need to clean up their trash.

Once we’ve cleaned up City Hall we will need to settle down to the long hard job of cleaning up The Dump. No miracles after the election, mismanagement takes time to repair. But first, before we clean up our nest, we need to get rid of the political obstructions.


All photos except the one of the swimmers courtesy of Bert Schou and Save the Pine Bush

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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 05/28/2009

Terry O'Neill (Esq.) wrote and posted this fine literary work on Democracy in Albany after DIA claimed that Jerry Jennings gets his strange orange skin color by bathing in orange leachate. Terry then sent it to me in an email, so here it is for you all to enjoy:


When the moon's in the sky,
You can see this strange guy
In the landfill performing some rite;
An odd and unsettling sight.
So, what does he do
With that noxious brown goo?
He takes a big scoop
Of bacterial poop

And makes an ablution
With this toxic solution.
Though most folks would drop
Down dead on the spot,

That's how our man
Stays perpetually tan.

Posted by: Terry O'Neill, Esq.
Posted on: 06/23/2009
A half a million years from now we'll get a big surprise
When from Big Jerry's landfill we'll draw energy supplies.
But I predict those times to come will see the same disputants
Fighting still though they will all by then have turned to mutants.

Posted by: Terry O'Neill, Esq.
Posted on: 06/25/2009

O, Albany, who'd have thunk
That you'd so very low have sunk;
Addicted to our neighbors' trash;
Landfill growing just for cash.
And here's the Mayor telling all
We need more time, not to stall,
But to hatch his really brilliant plan
To make him Mr. Garbage Man.
O, yes, the world will celebrate
And note the hour and the date
When Jerry with his knack for spin
Makes Mother Nature's loss his win.
And what with stone the Pharoahs did
With garbage builds his pyramid.

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