See you in court!
Families who claim the old Pelham Bay Landfill was the reason why their children developed forms of cancer will finally be allowed to fight their case against the city in a courtroom.
Although the landfill was officially shut down in 1979 after strong community protest, many local residents claimed that contaminated air, soil and groundwater from the site caused their children to develop acute lymphoid leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease.
Between 1991 and 1993, parents of 11 children, led by Patricia Nonnon, whose daughter Kerri died at age 10, sued the city, saying that its lack of care and maintenance of the landfill site resulted in high levels of toxic chemicals, which eventually caused their children to develop the diseases.
The fight has been ongoing for nearly 20 years, but on Thursday, September 15, a five member panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled unanimously that there is enough evidence for a jury to determine if toxic chemicals allegedly dumped in the landfill caused cancer in these local children.
Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who fought tirelessly along with the late Senator John Calandra and then Assemblyman Guy Velella during the 1970s to close the landfill, believes the parents have an excellent chance in finally winning their case.
“I sincerely hope that these parents receive an expeditious court hearing because there is no doubt that there was illegal dumping in the landfill,” Vacca said. “To be completely honest, I have no idea why it has taken the court this long to listen to the parents whose childrens’ illness resulted from this dump. It is time they give these parents their due.”
The former 81-acre landfill once housed 2,600 tons of municipal waste, but a strong fight from local elected officials, who learned in 1977 that the city never obtained proper permits from the state to operate on land owned by the City Department of Parks and Recreation, led to its official closing on December 31, 1978.
Before and after its closing, Vacca said there was always speculation that toxic chemicals were being dumped at the landfill. At the time, Vacca was district manager of Community Board 10, and said it was very often that constituents approached him about the possibility of toxins being present in and around the site.
“There were always issues regarding the placement of the landfill. It was near water, the amounts of garbage in there was always too much, and other major factors,” Vacca said. “Families who lived nearby always believed there was something wrong about what was being dumped there. Their children became ill and they presented their case. Now after all this time, I believe it will work out in their favor.”
The first court hearing is yet to be set. Lawyers representing the city still believe there is no connection between the landfill and the formation of the cancer in the children, however, both sides say they have scientific evidence to support their cases.