Royal Waste Fire Must Spark Waste Equity

BY MICHAEL SCOTLAND AND WALTER DOGAN

Enough is enough for Southeast Queens residents who have dealt with the consequences of negligent, for-profit waste facilities. Last month’s five-alarm fire at Royal Waste Services was a toxic-smelling reminder that Jamaica is home to far more than our fair share of waste transfer stations, and that these particular facilities are dangerous.

The stalled train service and billowing smoke from the blaze just amplified the business-as-usual impacts of this industry, which regularly disrupts traffic and pollutes the air that we breathe with endless diesel trucks.

The waste facilities in our community have a troubling history of dangerous and fatal accidents. In 2009, three workers at Royal’s transfer station died horribly after falling into a well of toxic liquid runoff. A few months ago, a wall collapsed at the facility, injuring two workers. And now, a major fire has polluted our community, putting dozens of workers and firefighters in harm’s way, and completely shutting down one of the country’s busiest rail lines during a Friday rush hour. In 2010, American Recycling also had a wall collapse onto the Long Island Rail Road tracks, resulting in a lawsuit against the facility from the MTA.

Putting 75 percent of the city’s waste into just three communities—North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Southeast Queens—amounts to environmental racism and our community, which handles nearly 10 percent of all New York City’s trash, has had enough. We have two major transfer and recycling stations in close proximity to houses, residential streets and a park, while most communities have zero waste facilities. In 2015, the Sanitation Department opened a brand-new marine transfer station in the College Point industrial zone, intended to handle Queens residents’ garbage and relieve Jamaica of garbage trucks. Unfortunately, the private transfer stations in Jamaica have simply sent more and more private trucks to their facilities to make up the business—and initial reports show that the private waste stations in our area handled even more garbage in 2017 than in 2016.

Our local elected officials need to stand with the community and demand limits on the huge amount of waste these garbage facilities process as well as rigorous oversight of their safety and labor practices. Our council members should start by passing the sensible Waste Equity Bill—Intro 157 of 2018, formerly Intro 495 of 2014—which would modestly reduce the permitted amount of garbage that transfer stations can handle, and take some of the polluting diesel garbage trucks off our local streets. Next, they should stand with our community in demanding a full investigation into the causes of last week’s massive fire, and ensure that state and city agencies with oversight authority do everything they can to correct these repeated safety failures.

Until now, the garbage companies seem to have put more effort into lobbying against reform than being good neighbors.That has to change. Enough is enough.

Michael Scotland represents the Addisleigh Park Civic Organization. Walter Dogan represents the Brinkerhoff Action Association.

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