by Mira Lazine
When people think of hot-button political issues, typically – and rightfully – issues such as systematic racism, queer rights, immigrant rights, worker rights, among others come to mind. These issues are undeniably of grave importance and quite literally determine whether millions will be able to live. However, as Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in his book ‘Our Revolution,’ “I understand that infrastructure is not exactly the most exciting issue out there… But let’s be clear: The state of our infrastructure is of enormous importance to our country. It greatly impacts the quality of our lives, the economy, and the environment.”
This country has severely neglected its infrastructure, as we can see quite clearly in our own region. While everyone has their own complaints of the poor quality roads riddled with potholes, an issue of more pressing importance has gone largely under the radar for most people: The Keystone Sanitary Landfill (KSL) in Dunmore, Pennsylvania.
Friends of Lackawanna (FoL) is a small environmental activist group based in the area that has been protesting against the expansion of this landfill for years now. They’ve been pushing for electoral candidates aiming to protect the environment (with much success, such as a recent write-in campaign), finding and releasing documents on the landfill’s health and environmental effects, and in general raising awareness of the dangers of KSL.
As they write, this landfill is among the largest in not only PA, but New England as a whole, with the majority of its waste coming from other states such as New York or New Jersey, and nearly two-fifths of that waste consisting of residue from fracking within those states. And to top of the burden that Lackawanna County receives, KSL alone holds nearly 10% of our entire state’s waste.
Consider that the size of the average landfill is approximately 600 acres, the equivalent of 450 football fields. KSL, however, is already at a whopping one thousand acres – about half the size of Carbondale, and roughly the same size as Clarks Summit! According to FoL, the Keystone Landfill accepts approximately 7,200 tons of waste a day, adding up to over 2 and a half million tons every single year!
One can already imagine the effects this would have, and they’d have rightful cause to worry. As FoL also points out, there’s no treatment of run-off from KSL, with the discharge a mere 450 feet away from a local water reservoir. Pictures from FoL’s site put into perspective just how close this is, with the reservoir directly bordering the landfill. A distance that amounts to a five-minute walk is all that stands between literal mountains of waste and the water that we use to wash our dishes, do our laundry, drink, and bathe in.
It’s also very crucial to remember the sheer toxicity of what’s in the landfill. Radioactive materials, as a result from fracking, are present within the landfill. While it’s certainly no atomic bomb, as the Environmental Protection Agency points out, even a 1% increase in cancer risk could be devastating – in the case of Dunmore, this would amount to hundreds of people getting cancer. Seeing as ingesting radioactive materials would likely produce a risk estimate far greater than 1%, there’s rightful cause to worry.
This is something that has the potential to bring about horrific health deficits, and an appeal by the organization made to the PA Department of Health reveals a horrifying truth: thousands are at risk. Ammonia and acetaldehyde are detected in the air in the surrounding regions, with the former being fatal in large enough doses and the latter being a potentially large cancer risk, with more research needed. Of course, even inhalation of these puts pregnant individuals, children and the elderly – as well as those with respiratory disease – at severe risk. To top it all off, no one has any idea exactly what effects all the substances discussed in the DoH report would have if they were to get into the water reservoir, and I doubt people are itching to find out first hand.
While the limited Department of Health report didn’t find a huge increased risk of cancer based on living near KSL, their assessment was based on indirect evidence and was weak methodologically – other independent assessments, as well as scientific evidence cited by FoL, reveal the unsurprising fact that just living near toxic chemicals does increase your likelihood of getting cancer.
With all this in mind, what’s to be done? While FoL recommended calling representatives or voting, this is limited as the Dunmore city county members who have previously announced their opposition to its expansion have voted in favor of it; namely, Michael McHale and Michael Hayes, who were fortunately voted out in the prior election. However, there’s still much support on the city council, primarily with Thomas Ehnot and Carol Scrimalli – and thus proving another barrier for electorialism. Attempting to change their minds won’t work, as any activist with even mild socialist leanings knows, calling representatives does very little to bring about any significant change.
Instead, what we need is action. The recent activism by Keystone College students in solidarity with global climate protests is proof enough of our region’s affinity for the environment and keen interest to bring about large-scale change. We need to stand up and actively protest against the Keystone Sanitation Landfill. We need to disrupt its functions and efforts to expand it, taking inspiration from climate activists across the world who are doing much of the same in their own regions. People are tired of risking disease and death over reckless landfill management – they’re tired of seeing NEPA’s beautiful landscape tarnished by mountains of garbage. It’s time people rise to the challenge and oppose the expansion of KSL.
Mira Lazine is a transgender anarchist based near Scranton with a particular focus on queer rights, environmentalism, and unionization. She’s a member of Anthracite Unite, and is actively involved with the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the Democratic Socialists of America. You can find more of her work at https://medium.com/@undergroundsocialist.
Also by Mira Lazine:
A Quest for Validation
For more information on the Friends of Lackawanna, including ways to get involved, visit their website: https://www.friendsoflackawanna.org/
Local officials are probably in favor of expansion because it keeps property taxes down.