A smelly, orangish stream flows into the Normans Kill near the former Duanesburg landfill.
“It’s really hard to miss,” remarked Corey Arndell, a senior from Duanesburg High School, pointing to a photo of the substance leaking from the creek bed’s rock.
Arndell is among a group of 20 area high school students from the Schoharie River Center’s Environmental Study Team, which concluded the discharge is polluting the creek. After analyzing the water quality and types of life at several sites along the creek, the students believe the discharge is originating from Duanesburg’s decommissioned municipal landfill along Feuz Lane and Dump Road.
The roughly 15-acre dump stopped accepting trash in 1991 and was capped the following year at a cost of $1.5 million, about half of which was funded through a state Department of Environmental Conservation grant. As part of the closure plan, contractors installed a system that was aimed at collecting leachate from the landfill in tanks, which were then supposed to be periodically pumped out by the town.
In 2001, DEC officials discovered a pipe leading to the creek, which they claimed had been discharging leachate for about eight years. The contaminated water that was supposed to be collected in a catch basin had never been pumped out prior to the investigation.
Town officials denied having any knowledge of the pipe and instead faulted the contractor — Kilby Brothers of Rensselaer County — that capped the landfill. At one point, DEC investigators paid an unannounced visit to Town Hall and removed about eight boxes of records pertaining to the landfill.
But nothing ever came of the investigation and the town records were never returned, recalled Supervisor Rene Merrihew, who was on the Town Board when DEC investigated the matter in 2002. What she found even more perplexing was that a department official didn’t seem concerned about the massive orange stain that appears to originate from the closed landfill.
“He said the pipe wasn’t the cause of the stain,” she said. “He wasn’t concerned [about the orange discharge].”
The students were first approached by a town resident, who claimed the contamination had been leaking for years into the creek. John McKeeby, the Schoharie River Center’s executive director, said the resident provided photo documentation that shows sludge leaking into the creek for more than 30 years.
In September, the students visited four sites upstream and downstream from the suspected site of contamination. Each site was tested for water quality and analyzed for life forms such as insect larvae.
While the upstream sites had bountiful amounts of life, the site studied nearest to the orange-colored discharge was marked by a general lack, indicating contamination, explained Ben McKeeby, a senior at Duanesburg High School.
“If you find more leeches than stoneflies, you’re going to find a problem with the water,” he said.
Further analysis revealed higher counts of E. coli and coliform bacteria in the water near the discharge area, which commonly means sewage.
The Normans Kill feeds the Watervliet Reservoir in Guilderland, which supplies thousands of Capital Region homes with drinking water. DEC officials did not return a call for comment Monday.
The students presented their findings during the Hudson River Watch’s annual Clean Water Congress in November and won several awards for thier work. They intend to give a presentation on their work during the Town Board meeting Thursday, with a recomendation that the discharge be tested for heavy metals.
“Our concern is that no one really knows what’s going into that creek,” John McKeeby said. “You have a dump that basically becomes a giant tea bag, and we don’t know what is in that toxic tea.”
Merrihew said the town pumps out about 2,000 gallons of leachate from the collection tanks every other month. However, she said the town will consider additional messures if leachate is leaking into the creek.
“We’ll certainly do what we need to do for the safety of the creek,” she said.