Fresh Kills Landfill

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Fresh Kills Landfill
Wpdms usgs photo fresh kills.jpg
Fresh Kills Landfill is on the western edge of Staten Island
Coordinates: 40°34′36″N74°11′14″W / 40.57667°N 74.18733°W / 40.57667; -74.18733 Coordinates: 40°34′36″N74°11′14″W / 40.57667°N 74.18733°W / 40.57667; -74.18733
  Total900 ha (2,200 acres)

The Fresh Kills Landfill was a landfill covering 2,200 acres (890 ha) in the New York City borough of Staten Island in the United States. The name comes from the landfill's location along the banks of the Fresh Kills estuary in western Staten Island. [1]

Landfill site for the disposal of waste materials by burial

A landfill site is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial. It is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common method of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Staten Island Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Staten Island is one of the five boroughs of New York City, in the U.S. state of New York. Located in the southwest portion of the city, the borough is separated from New Jersey by the Arthur Kill and the Kill Van Kull and from the rest of New York by New York Bay. With an estimated population of 479,458 in 2017, Staten Island is the least populated of the boroughs but is the third-largest in land area at 58.5 sq mi (152 km2). The borough also contains the southern-most point in the state, South Point.


The landfill was opened in 1948 as a temporary landfill but by 1955 it became the largest landfill in the world and it remained so until its closure in 2001. At the peak of its operation, in 1986, Fresh Kills received 29,000 tons of residential waste per day. From 1991 until its closing it was the only landfill to receive New York City's residential waste. It consists of four mounds which range in height from 90 to approximately 225 feet and hold approximately 150 million tons of solid waste. The archaeologist Martin Jones characterises it as "among the largest man-made structures in the history of the world." [2] [3] [4] [5]

In October 2008, reclamation of the site began for a multi-phase, 30-year site redevelopment. The landfill is eventually expected to be developed as Freshkills Park.

Freshkills Park

Freshkills Park is a public park being built atop a landfill reclamation project on Staten Island. At about 2,200 acres (8.9 km2), it will be the largest park developed in New York City since the 19th century. Its construction began in October 2008 and is slated to continue in phases for at least 30 years. When fully developed by 2035-37, Freshkills Park will be the second-largest park in New York City and almost three times the size of Central Park in Manhattan. The park has been designed for five major sections that accommodate a range of uses, including cultural, athletic, and educational programs. Sections of the park will be connected by a circulation system for vehicles and a network of paths for bicyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is running the project with the New York City Department of Sanitation.



Garbage scows bring solid waste to Plant #2 at Fresh Kills Landfill, 1973. GARBAGE SCOWS BRING SOLID WASTE, FOR USE AS LANDFILL, TO FRESH KILLS ON STATEN ISLAND, JUST EAST OF CARTERET, NJ - NARA - 548315.jpg
Garbage scows bring solid waste to Plant #2 at Fresh Kills Landfill, 1973.

New York's municipal incinerators peaked in capacity with twenty-one plants in 1937 and declined during World War II, when salvage and conservation programs reduced the use of combustibles. The result was the closing of nine of the city's incinerators and a sharp reduction in the combustion of waste by 1944. By 1946, only ten incinerators were in operation, with capacity having declined by half since 1937. This meant more solid waste for the city's eight landfills to handle. However, the two landfills in Brooklyn and the two in the Bronx had, respectively, just one and two years left before reaching capacity. Only one landfill, Edgemere Landfill in Queens, had a long-term future, and as such, an alternative site had to be found. [6]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Incineration waste treatment process, burning material for disposal

Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials. Incineration and other high-temperature waste treatment systems are described as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, flue gas and heat. The ash is mostly formed by the inorganic constituents of the waste and may take the form of solid lumps or particulates carried by the flue gas. The flue gases must be cleaned of gaseous and particulate pollutants before they are dispersed into the atmosphere. In some cases, the heat generated by incineration can be used to generate electric power.

Edgemere Landfill

Edgemere Landfill is a former municipal landfill located in Edgemere on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, New York City. It is located on a man-made peninsula on the Jamaica Bay shoreline, at the eastern end of the Rockaway peninsula. A portion of the site is currently open to the public as Rockaway Community Park. The entire site is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

In 1946, New York City purchased a 2,200-acre (890 ha) site, which was considered worthless swamp land in what was then a rural agricultural area in Staten Island, for a proposed three-year municipal waste dump, as a temporary solution to the closing of the Rikers Island Landfill. [7] The plan was endorsed by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority chairman, Robert Moses. He wanted the area to be developed as Staten Island's industrial base, as it was opposite the Arthur Kill from the heavy industry of New Jersey. Moses saw the project as key to the development of the island, and with it, the possibility of more parkland, highways, industry, and possibly even an airport. [6]

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Rikers Island Island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx that is home to New York Citys main jail complex

Rikers Island is a 413.17-acre (167.204 ha) island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx that is home to New York City's main jail complex. It is close to the runways of LaGuardia Airport. Supposedly named after Abraham Rycken, who bought the island in 1664, the island was originally under 100 acres (40 ha) in size, but has since grown to more than 400 acres (160 ha). The first stages of expansion were accomplished largely by convict labor hauling in ashes for landfill. The island is politically part of the Bronx, although bridge access is from Queens and it is included as part of Queens Community Board 1 and uses a Jackson Heights, Queens, ZIP Code of 11370 for mail.

Robert Moses American urban planner and public official

Robert Moses was an American public official who worked mainly in the New York metropolitan area. Known as the "master builder" of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and was one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban development in the United States. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation despite his not having trained in those professions. Moses would call himself a "coordinator" and was referred to in the media as a "master builder".

The plan was opposed by Staten Island residents and their representatives. Assemblyman Edmund P. Radigan introduced a secession bill in the Legislature. [6] [8] A bill was passed (later vetoed by the governor) requiring all garbage to be incinerated before being placed in a landfill. [6] Ellsworth B. Buck, called for the federal government to step in and stop the project. Cornelius Hall, when he was the city's public works commissioner, opposed the project, but when he became the Borough President of Staten Island, he surprised residents by backing the plan, saying: "I am firmly convinced that a limited landfill project can be undertaken at Fresh Kills, a project that would prove of great value to the island through the reclamation of valuable land from now worthless marshland. [6] Hall intended the landfill to be part of a proposed belt highway along Staten Island's west shore, which was approved by Moses in exchange his support of the landfill. Hall went on to say "I want [landfilling] operations limited to [a] period not to exceed three years ... I am going along with this proposal because I believe ... we are in a position to use this fill to our advantage, for the development of the West Shore of Staten Island, which is essential.". [9] The talk of using Fresh Kills for only three years may have been a ploy to allow Hall to save face politically. As described in an inter-departmental report from 1946: "Because of the substantial sums involved in the preparation and acquisition of the [Fresh Kills] site, [in order to justify this expense] the City must dispose of refuse at this location for a number of years." [10]

Edmund P. Radigan was an American businessman and politician from New York.

Ellsworth B. Buck American politician

Ellsworth Brewer Buck was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New York during the 1940s.

One of the first steps taken was the dredging of the marsh to allow the passage of the city's garbage scows. [6] The landfill accepted its first scow in April 1948. [11] Shortly before the landfill opened, an expansion of the landfill project was approved by the City Planning Commission, which called for a 2,200-acre (890 ha) project organized in 13 sections [12] [6] The landfill was planned to be structured like a layer cake, with a layer of garbage covered by a layer of ash the remains of burnable trash from the city's incinerators another layer of garbage, and then a layer of dirt to contain the smell. At the end of the landfill's usable life, new real estate would be created, allowing the landfill to top off at 10–15 feet above sea level. [6] The plan called for Fresh Kills to be used for 20 years, then developed as a multiuse area with residential, recreational, and industrial components. [13] In 1950, the height was increased to 25–40 feet. By 1955, Fresh Kills was the largest landfill in the world, serving as the principal landfill for household garbage collected in New York City. [3]


A D7 Tractor with two Athey Wagons dumping, 1973. DUMPING LANDFILL AT FRESH KILLS, ON THE WEST SHORE OF STATEN ISLAND - NARA - 548348.jpg
A D7 Tractor with two Athey Wagons dumping, 1973.

Operations during the 1960s were conducted in three different locations named "Plant 1", "Plant 2", and "Brookfield Avenue." Plant #1 was located at the site of an old factory on the south side of junction of the Great Fresh Kills, and Little Fresh Kills. It was reachable via Muldoon Avenue. Plant #2 was located a bit upstream on the north side of Fresh Kills near where Richmond Creek branches off. It was reachable from Victory Boulevard. The Brookfield Avenue site was north of the Arthur Kill Road and Brookfield Avenue intersection.

Plant 1 was the administrative headquarters, and also the main repair facility. Plant 1 and Plant 2 were marine unload operations. Barges arrived from the other boroughs (primarily Manhattan and Brooklyn). Refuse was picked up by a crane (called a "digger") using a clamshell bucket and deposited in a caterpillar-tracked side-dump vehicle called an "Athey wagon" (not related to equipment of the same name used for oil drilling).

Two wagons were then pulled to the active dump site by tractor (Caterpillar D7, D8, D9) and emptied. The Plant 1 digger was electric but the Plant 2 one was steam powered. The diggers were supplemented by other cranes (mostly mounted on barges). A typical day would unload twelve barges (six at each plant). Operations were carried out from 8am to midnight six days a week. The midnight to 8am shift was for maintenance.

To expand the Plant 2 operating area, a wooden trestle bridge was built across Fresh Kills creek. This allowed dumping east to Richmond Avenue. As the actual dump site moved further from paved roads, it became more difficult for trucks to unload. The Brookfield Avenue site was opened in 1966 and used exclusively for trucks.

During this period, the dump was in a state of flux. Original plans showed the dump with a twenty-year lifespan. One plan for the West Shore Expressway bridge across Fresh Kills included a tide gate, which would have blocked Plant 2's marine access. The bridge, when finally built in 1959, actually enhanced operations. The bridge was finished long before the rest of the expressway and was used by workers to travel between the two plants.


Originally, the land where the landfill was located was a salt marsh in which there were tidal wetlands, forests, and freshwater wetlands. The subsoil was made up of clay, with sand and silt as the top layer of soil. The land still contains large amounts of wildlife within the boundaries of the landfill. [14] Nevertheless, the overall effect of the landfill was to destroy a tidal marsh, which helped to clean and oxygenate the water that passed through it, and which supported a great and varied population of flora and fauna, and replace it with what was essentially a monoculture of herring gulls and invasive phragmites, the common reed a grass which grows abundantly in disturbed areas and can tolerate both fresh and brackish water which drove out native plant species. The stagnant, deoxygenated water was also less attractive to water fowl, and their population decreased. [6] Samuel Kearing, who had served as sanitation commissioner under Mayor John V. Lindsay, remembered in 1970 his first visit to the Fresh Kills project:

It had a certain nightmare quality. ... I can still recall looking down on the operation from a control tower and thinking that Fresh Kills, like Jamaica Bay, had for thousands of years been a magnificent, teeming, literally life-enhancing tidal marsh. And in just twenty-five years, it was gone, buried under millions of tons of New York City's refuse. [6]

Animals were also a problem. Feral dog packs roamed the dump and were a hazard to employees. Rats also posed a problem. Attempts to suppress the population with poison failed. The area was declared a wild bird sanctuary, and a number of hawks, falcons, and owls were brought in. The area became a popular spot for birdwatching. Because of the predatory birds, rat sightings, especially during the day, dropped dramatically.

From 1987 through 1988, in an environmental disaster known as Syringe Tide , significant amounts of medical waste from the Fresh Kills landfill, including hypodermic syringes and raw garbage, washed up onto beaches on the Jersey Shore, in New York City, and on Long Island. This forced the closing of beaches on the Atlantic coast. [15] After much deliberation, New York City was required to pay $1 million for past pollution damages as well as pay for the cleanup. No reparations were paid to the business owners on the Jersey Shore for revenues lost during the months of inactivity. [16]


As a result of strong community pressure, a state law was passed in 1996 requiring that the landfill cease accepting solid waste by the end of 2001. By 1997, two of the four landfill mounds were closed and covered with a thick, impermeable cap. The landfill received its last barge of garbage on March 22, 2001.

At its peak of operation in 1986-87, Fresh Kills received as much as 29,000 tons of trash per day. [3] It was estimated that, if kept open, the landfill would have eventually reached a height of 600 feet, surpassing Todt Hill to become the highest point on the East Coast south of Mount Desert Island in Maine. [4] Under local pressure, and with the support of Rudy Giuliani as the city's mayor, and George Pataki as governor of New York state, who gave in to pressure from Guy Molinari, the Staten Island Borough President, [6] and with support of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the landfill site was finally closed on March 22, 2001, though it was temporarily reopened soon after for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan (see below). The garbage that had once gone to Fresh Kills was dealt with by the simple expedient of shipping it to landfills in other states, primarily in Pennsylvania, but also in Virginia and Ohio. Some was also sent to New Jersey for incineration. [6]

September 11, 2001 and aftermath

Worker combing through debris from the World Trade Center at the Fresh Kills landfill, Manhattan is visible in the distance World Trade Center wreckage-Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island.jpg
Worker combing through debris from the World Trade Center at the Fresh Kills landfill, Manhattan is visible in the distance

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Fresh Kills was temporarily re-opened to be used as a sorting ground for roughly one third of the rubble from Ground Zero. More than 1,600 personal effects were retrieved during this time. About 1.6 million tons of material obtained from Ground Zero was taken to the landfill for sorting. [17]

Thousands of detectives and forensic evidence specialists worked for over 1.7 million hours at Fresh Kills Landfill to try to recover remnants of the people killed in the attacks. A final count of 4,257 human remains were recovered, but only 300 people were identified from these remains. A memorial is being built to honor those who were not able to be identified from the debris. [18] The remaining debris was buried in a 40-acre (160,000 m2) portion of the landfill; it is highly likely that this debris still contains fragmentary human remains. [19]

Freshkills Park project

A depiction of the future Fresh Kills Park Fresh Kills Park.jpg
A depiction of the future Fresh Kills Park

The Fresh Kills site is to be transformed into reclaimed wetlands, recreational facilities and landscaped public parkland, the largest expansion of the New York City parks since the development of the chain of parks in the Bronx during the 1890s. The new park will be designed by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architecture firm also responsible for the design of the High Line in Manhattan. [20]

In January 2005, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro announced plans to open three roads leading out of the former landfill to regular traffic, as part of an effort to ease the road congestion. Construction on the actual park began in 2008. The three-phase development of the park, which will include a September 11 memorial, is expected to last 30 years. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published for public review in May 2008. As of mid-2011, construction drawings for the first phase of development in the South Park section were completed. [20]

The Department of Parks and Recreation is responsible for implementing the plan for turning the landfill into a park. They used a Draft Master Plan that integrated three aspects, programming, wildlife, and circulation, and proposed five main parks: the Confluence, North Park, South Park, East Park, and West Park. [21] With an eventual size of 2,200 acres (890 ha), Freshkills Park will be three times the size of the 843-acre Central Park. [22] It will consist of a variety of public spaces and facilities for a multitude of activity types. The site is large enough to support many sports and programs including nature trails, horseback riding, mountain biking, community events, outdoor dining, sports fields and canoeing/kayaking. [23]

Schmul Park, the first section of Freshkills Park, opened to the public in 2012. [24] Although the park is not scheduled for completion until 2037, the Parks Department reported that in 2010-11 two hundred different species of wildlife had been seen in the former landfill. These included red-winged blackbirds, American goldfinches, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, osprey, ring-necked pheasants, tree swallows, turkey vultures, and northern snapping turtles. [6]

Staten Island Transfer Station

Staten Island Transfer Station occupies a small portion of the site of the former Fresh Kills Landfill near the old Plant #2 at 40°34′49″N74°11′38″W / 40.580267°N 74.193994°W / 40.580267; -74.193994 (Staten Island Transfer Station) . The transfer station—an integral part of New York City's Solid Waste Management Plan—is expected to process an average of 900 tons per day of Staten Island-generated residential and municipal waste. The waste is compacted inside the 79,000-square-foot (7,300 m2) facility into sealed 12-foot-high (3.7 m) by 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal shipping containers, which are then loaded, four containers each car, onto flatbed rail cars to be hauled by rail to a Republic Services landfill in South Carolina. The eight-mile (13 km) Staten Island Railway freight service, which connects the facility to the national rail freight network via the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge, was reactivated in April 2007, after it had been closed in 1991. [25]

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