Just when they thought they were finally beginning to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, some New Jersey residents are now saying that debris from the super storm is making them sick. When people in Roxbury, NJ began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting, the cause was traced to fumes emanating from the nearby Fenimore landfill. The locals claim that their illnesses were caused by decaying Sandy wreckage dumped at the site, but an investigation has yet to confirm.
Residents believe that a portion of the wreckage Sandy caused ended up at Fenimore, and is now causing those living in the area to get sick. One possibility is that the debris included gypsum wallboards, which can release a toxic and flammable hydrogen sulfide gas when the material decomposes in a wet environment. In high enough volumes, the volatile gas is known to cause respiratory issues, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss or even death.
Shannon Caccavella of Roxbury said she noticed the smell of rotten eggs in the area, which turned out to be hydrogen sulfide. “[It] was so bad that our eyes were burning,” Caccavella said. “People were tearing. My guests had to leave. We were choking. It was terrible.” Worse yet, in December, Caccavella’s daughter started suffering from headaches. After a string of MRIs and CAT scans, pediatric neurologists concluded the source of the problem was fumes from the Fenimore landfill.
Other local children have experienced nosebleeds and vomiting as they were bussed to school on a road that stretches along the landfill site. Residents also claim the fumes have made dogs in the area sick and caused them to die. Beyond the gaseous problems emanating from the landfill, the contamination has seeped into well water, forcing residents to purchase expensive filters for their taps and even to wash their clothes.
In response to the issue, state officials have come out saying there’s no evidence to link the debris at Fenimore to Sandy. Now state lawmakers have passed a bill to seize control of the site. Since then, the DEP has been remediating the area with a number of wells around the landfill to pump out the hydrogen sulfide gas, burn it off and filter it. The agency has also installed air monitors around the perimeter of the site that town officials plan to connect with a mobile app currently in development. Furthermore, the state plans to award a private company to cap a 19-acre portion of the 65-acre landfill, sealing part of the area while providing space for a new solar array.
It’s a somewhat satisfactory ending, but the damage from the landfill has left its mark on the town. Going forward the community and environmental agencies hope this will be remembered as a clear example and valuable lesson for how New Jersey handles its waste. Environmentalists have also spoken out criticizing the state for not learning from its past mistakes and recommends changes for its regulations.