A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 November 22, 1990


Incinerator was to be built by
Ebasco Constructors Inc. & Babcock & Wilcox
Consultants: Malcolm Pirnie
Incinerator Health Risk Assessment: Stephen Safe, Allan Smith, Edward Wei


In August 1990 the Town Supervisor of North Hempstead in Nassau County cancelled the town’s longstanding contract with Ebasco Constructors Inc. and Babcock & Wilcox Co. to build a 990 tpd mass-burn incinerator. Residents waged an intense battle against the proposed incinerator for 3 1/2 years. TWENTY-ONE GROUPS were granted intervener status in the permitting process by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) - an exceptional and rare achievement in a state dominated by this incinerator-driven regulatory agency. A symbol of community involvement was the fact that all twenty-one groups were opposed to the incinerator, with 15 of the groups represented by high-powered lawyers, coupled by a lot of litigation against the incinerator. The involvement of the groups in the permitting process delayed the incinerator long enough for it to be defeated politically. North Hempstead is in the most affluent part of Nassau County, and residents brought forward their skills and money to fight the incinerator, which included artists donating graphics and designs; lawyers offering help; printers donating mailings; bars, bookstores & health food shops donating profits; a lot of support from doctors; two grants from the Unitarian-Universalist Veatch Foundation totalling $63,000 to local anti-incinerator coalitions; the Village of Rosalyn Harbor, one of the interveners, spent more than $50,000 fighting the incinerator; the Villages of Seacliff and East Hills each donated $10,000 to citizen groups fighting the incinerator. The largest fund-raisers were black-tie dinners with live bands, which averaged $20,000 in profits. Newsday, Long Island’s largest newspaper which ran the series Rush to Burn, took a very clear pro-incinerator editorial position in the North Hempstead issue. According to Cecilia Wheeler of the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, Newsday called the local anti-incinerator/pro-recycling activists: “Nimby know-nothings” and “Eco-evangelists” -- according to Cecilia it was as if Newsday never published the results of their 6-month investigation which resulted in Rush to Burn (published by Island Press, 1989). Malcolm Pirnie were the major consultants that designed the waste management plan for North Hempstead which included the 990 tpd incinerator. And now with the defeat of the incinerator it is Malcolm Pirnie who are preparing the new non-incineration plan. The election of North Hempstead Supervisor, Ben Zwirn, in the November 1989 elections, proved pivotal in the defeat of this incinerator. Zwirn, a Democrat, ran as an anti-incinerator candidate, with active support from the citizens groups, against a tightly-controlled Republican machine. Since becoming Town Supervisor, Zwirn has done everything the residents could have hoped for, without any support from his town board. Susan Shattuck of Port Washington started the first MOMI group, Mothers Opposed to Mass Incineration, which organized events for children and their Moms to protest the incinerator. The anti-incinerator groups tried hard to get an incinerator referendum on the November 1989 ballot but the Town challenged the referendum on a technicality and the issue went to the State Supreme Court and it was not resolved before the election. Prior to Zwirn’s election, North Hempstead’s 4 councilmen and Town Supervisor were the major proponents of the incinerator and also were the towns Solid Waste Management Authority. After Zwirn was elected he appointed Ellen Markowski as his Executive Assistant. Prior to this appointment Ellen worked for Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, a group that worked hard for a non-incinertor plan.


In May 1988 two groups (Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington) released a report called A Non-Incineration Solid Waste Management and Recycling Report, prepared by Sound Resources Management Group from Seattle, Washington. The report, estimated to cost $125,000, showed that recycling and composting would be cheaper and would divert more from the wastestream than the proposed incinerator. The report stated that by adopting a non-incineration plan the town could reduce the amount going to landfill by 70% at a cost which would save the town $110 million in capital and finance charges. This report is available for $40 from the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, P.O. Box 159, Sea Cliff, NY 11579. In October 1990, after millions of dollars were spent on the incinerator proposal, North Hempstead signed onto a non-incinerator plan. The town has three draft applications under review: (1) materials recovery facility, (2) bulky waste recycling and (3) yard-waste composting. The 4th permit for food waste composting is under review. Zwirn has asked the DEC for a 2-year landfill extension for time to build the recycling facilities and to reach their targets. The landfill, located in Port Washington, and known as L-5, is lined and has been operating approx 7 years and is adjacent to the old landfill, known as L-4, which is undergoing a superfund cleanup. The landfill is slated to close unless the town receives a specific reprieve from the DEC. Because the landfill is outside the so-called deep flow recharge zone the request for a landfill extension is technically feasible. The DEC has been devising strategies for Long Island communities to send their trash to incinerators on the island. The DEC wants North Hempstead to divert 200 tpd of garbage to an incinerator -most likely to BFI’s garbage-starved Am-Ref Fuel incinerator in Hempstead. While all these plans are underway, the township has had to focus their resources on dealing with the overwhelming landfill problems that have developed within the last 2 months.


The siting of the incinerator was proposed for a highly residential area, which includes seven superfund sites. The notoriously-run 250 tpd Montenay incinerator in Glen Cove is approx 2 1/2 miles away and BFI’s Am-Ref Fuel 2,300 tpd incinerator in Hempstead, another township in Nassau County, is approx. 8 miles from the site. The 200 tpd Long Beach incinerator is approx 20 miles away. The incinerator and ash landfill would have been on the same site that now houses the troubled landfill, which abuts Hempstead Harbor, one of the most blighted parts of the Long Island sound. In the summer of 1989 Hempstead Harbor had “no oxygen and no marine life” in it. The DEC offered $4 million, from the 1972 Environmental Quality Bond Act, to subsidize the incinerator construction.


Two months ago the landfill began to emanate a rotten-egg stench that now permeates a 7 mile radius. The odors have become intensely more offensive each week. The reasons given for the highly offensive odors is that the fill material that was used as landfill cover was contaminated with raw garbage and decomposing construction and debris (C&D) materials that is releasing Hydrogen Sulfide gas. Plans to correct the situation seem to change by the week, with the latest scheme to add hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the odors while millions of gallons of leachate are pumped out -- the leachate pumping station had been down for a period of three weeks for maintenance in October. The odors and the residents’ complaints are so intense that all the town’s resources are being spent on lessening the impact of the odors on the surrounding five communities. According to Ellen Markowski, a mountain of cover material, delivered by 7 different companies, was taken in at the landfill this summer. When they started to move this material they recognized it was not clean. The material tested as RCRA non-hazardous, but the odor problem began to intensify at the end of August. The problem has been compounded by the impact of the standing leachate on the material that has a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide. (See Waste Not #107 on a 1989 NY Dept of Health report on health problems among residents living near a C&D landfill in Catskill, NY: “Gypsum board, a common component of construction and demolition debris is known to undergo microbial decomposition releasing hydrogen sulfide. Other materials in the debris also decompose over time releasing other organic vapors and gases. Hydrogen Sulfide has an offensive, rotten egg-like odor at levels as low as 0.003 to 0.13 ppm. At high levels of exposure, it is an asphyxiant causing death by interfering with the way the body utilizes oxygen. Effects at lower levels of exposure include eye irritation, blurred vision, and respiratory irritation...”). According to residents the landfill has been unbelievably mismanaged by the town’s Solid Waste Management Authority.

A partial list of groups that opposed the incinerator: Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, MOMI, Citizens Promoting Recycling, Taxpayers United for Recycling Now, Port Washington Water District, & the NY Public Research Interest Group. For more information contact Steve Romalewski at NYPIRG, 516-673-5536 or the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor at 516-759-3832.

WASTE NOT # 126 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35,; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian Subscriptions $US45. Editors: Paul & Ellen Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.