Public Health

A variety of federal, state and local laws and regulations govern present and future use of the Freshkills Park site. The overall goals of these regulations are to protect and preserve public health and the environment. To do so, it is essential that the integrity of the landfill and its systems be maintained. In addition to the landfill regulations, additional regulations govern the city’s land uses, the quality of its air and water, and its coastal resources.

It is anticipated that it will take at least thirty years from the final capping before gas production and settlement associated with decomposition cease and leachate fully drains from the site. As these processes occur, there will be a continuing need for regular maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of the site and systems that have been put into place, primarily the final cover, landfill gas (LFG) and leachate systems, and the extensive network of monitoring wells. Our designs for the park ensure that access to these systems will be preserved during this time for inspection, maintenance and repair.

Three of the four mounds at Fresh Kills are already capped with a thick, impermeable cover that separates the waste from the environment and park visitors. The remaining mound is in the process of being capped. The City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is currently working with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ensure environmentally sound closure of the landfill sections that remain to be capped and to prepare for DSNY’s long-term operational responsibility (a minimum of 30 years post-closure) for on-site environmental monitoring and control systems. No area will be open to ongoing public access until it has been determined that human health and the environment are protected.

Freshkills Park remains closed to the public during this exciting transformation. Join us on one of our scheduled activities to see it for yourself. See Landfill Engineering for more about the park’s layers of protection.

Landfill Regulation

DEC’s Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste Materials regulates landfill closure and post-closure operations under 6 NYCRR Part 360, Solid Waste Management Facilities (Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules, and Regulation of the State of New York). The Solid Waste Management regulations address the need to identify and manage current or future potential releases of pollutants or the mitigation of contaminants from a landfill, and to control and mitigate any impacts once landfill operations have ceased. Among the requirements, all of which are met at Fresh Kills, are landfill gas control, leachate collection and treatment, and a post-closure operation and maintenance plan for at least 30 years.

Air Quality Regulation

Under the 1970 Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six air contaminants (criteria pollutants) for protection against adverse impacts to public health and welfare. These standards have also been adopted by DEC and are specified in 6 NYCRR Part 275.

EPA and DEC regulations include emissions guidelines for municipal solid waste landfills, including Fresh Kills. The emissions of concern from landfills are non–methane organic compounds (NMOC) and methane. The Fresh Kills gas containment and collection system is comprised by the landfill cap and a system of gas collection trenches and header pipes that convey the gas to one or more collection points onsite, either for beneficial use (power generation) or for flaring under controlled conditions. While most of the gas is recovered for reuse by National Grid, the flare stations are a back–up safety measure in the event that the recovery system is down. In the future, when little or no gas is generated by the site and the active extraction system is no longer cost–effective, the remaining methane will be flared off.

Soil Standards

Unlike air and water, the framework for regulation of soil quality is not established by a single law or program. Rather, there is a collection of regulations and guidelines at the federal and state levels that are intended to apply to soil in certain situations.

Both the federal and state hazardous materials management programs provide procedures for evaluating whether soils have the potential to cause adverse impacts to human health or the environment. This is generally performed on a case–by–case basis, since the potential for adverse impacts depends on the likely pathways and extent of exposure. Both EPA and DEC have developed “screening levels,” i.e., levels below which there is unlikely to be concern given assumptions about the potential for exposure.

The planting soil layer or top soil layer must have a minimum thickness of six inches. It is specified to be fertile. The soil used is a sandy loam, selected for its potential to prevent soil erosion and to provide suitable growing medium for the vegetation layer. The primary objective of the vegetation layer is to protect the integrity of the final cover through erosion control. A network of plant roots hold onto the soil, providing stability.

Water Quality Regulation

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act (CWA), requires the EPA to establish and periodically update national water quality standards that are based on quantifiable pollutant concentrations and that aim to protect the environment and human health. Individual states then use these published standards to set allowable concentrations of pollutants in groundwater and surface water. In New York State, surface water and groundwater quality standards and groundwater effluent limitations are promulgated by DEC through 6 NYCRR.

At Fresh Kills, groundwater monitoring wells are installed at intervals of about 500 feet in the shallow groundwater around each landfill mound, every 750 feet in the groundwater zones down-gradient of the mounds, and every 1,500 feet in the groundwater zones up-gradient of the mounds. In total, there are 238 groundwater monitoring wells at Fresh Kills, 116 of which are shallow well, 61 are intermediate depth wells, and 61 are deep bedrock wells. Groundwater monitoring is performed quarterly at each well.

In addition to the groundwater monitoring plan, there is also a surface water monitoring program at Fresh Kills. This program includes annual surface water monitoring in Fresh Kills, Main, and Richmond Creeks within the landfill boundaries and a biennial monitoring program for their sediment quality. Surface water and sediment sampling is performed at a total of 14 sampling stations. Four of these stations are also monitored for benthic ecology (the study of organisms living in and on the sea floor) at both the intertidal and subtidal zones.

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