In this toxic tort litigation concerning the Pelham Bay landfill, we hold that the reports and findings of the expert epidemiologists and toxicologists satisfy the standard employed in Frye v United States, that of general acceptance in the scientific community. To hold otherwise would deny redress to these plaintiffs, who are living in an area where they are being systemically poisoned by environmental contaminants, and who have presented sufficient evidence to sustain their burden on summary judgment.
The now inactive 81-acre landfill is owned by the City of New York and was operated by the Department of Sanitation from approximately 1963 until 1979. During that time, it was used to dispose of 2,600 tons of solid waste per day. Over the years, residents made complaints about a number of problems at the landfill, including the improper dumping of hazardous materials, odor emanating from the site, and a yellow mist floating through the air. Residents also claimed that the landfill was illegally receiving industrial wastes, including oil, and carcinogenic liquid and solid wastes from corporations in the area.
There has been much personal injury litigation concerning this landfill. In March of 1985, the City commenced an action under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) against 15 corporate defendants. The City claimed that the corporations had illegally disposed of industrial and chemical waste, containing “hazardous substances” within the meaning of CERCLA, at Pelham Bay, and four other landfills. It asserted that the groundwater had become contaminated, was leaching1 into the surface waters around the landfills, including Jamaica Bay, Eastchester Bay, and Richmond Creek, and was threatening aquifers which are present or potential sources of drinking water for the City’s residents. The City sought recovery of the costs it had incurred in attempting to rid the area of toxins, and damages for injury to natural resources which were affected by pollutants. As a result of that suit, the City was awarded millions of dollars. In 1983, the Pelham Bay landfill was classified as an inactive hazardous waste site by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. This classification means that a significant threat to the public health or environment exists, and that personal injury action is required.
Thereafter, in 1985, in response to complaints about dangerous leachate streams and ponds by individuals living in the vicinity of the landfill, the City Department of Sanitation (DOS) signed a consent decree with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It admitted that it had allowed leachate to enter the surface and groundwaters in violation of state and federal standards, and that it had allowed hazardous waste to be illegally disposed at Pelham Bay while it was in operation. The 1985 consent decree required DOS to submit temporary and permanent leachate management plans to the DEC. However, DOS did not comply with the 1985 decree and, as a result, in April 1990 DOS and DEC entered into a second consent decree. This required completion of a remedial plan for cleanup of the Pelham Bay landfill by 1995.
During this time, it became public that hazardous waste was being dumped in this highly populated area. As a result, starting in the early 1980s, local citizens formed an organization called the Pelham Bay Task Force, and an adjunct Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). The purposes of SAC and the Task Force were to put pressure on the City to evaluate the effect of the hazardous landfill on their community.
To Be Cont…
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