The Edgemere Landfill

November 10, 2010 - This photo essay is part of a three part series exploring Edgemere, an isolated waterfront neighborhood in The Rockaways. Each photo essay focuses on one of Edgemere's three distinct geographic areas: The South Edgemere Wasteland, The North Edgemere Shore and The Edgemere Landfill.

Edgemere is a Queens waterfront neighborhood divided. To the south lies a vast oceanfront wasteland. To the north, residents live along the shores of Jamaica Bay in a community troubled by a recent history of government neglect and gang warfare. Bordering this community is the Edgemere Landfill, a remediated toxic Superfund site. Situated on a peninsula of land between Norton Basin and Sommerville Basin, this former marshland was "once a resort for the well-heeled of New York" according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. Today it is an ecological disaster zone, filled with explosive gasses, littered with abandoned trailers and boats, and leaking antiquated debris from all sides.

Opened in 1938, the Edgemere Landfill was once "the longest continuously operating dump in the United States and perhaps the oldest," according to the NY Times. Locals called it Mount Edgemere because "the garbage mound had risen 70 feet above Jamaica Bay, occupying 178 acres and more than two miles of shoreline." In 1983, city officials discovered "3,000 55-gallon drums - some of them crushed, some badly rusted," which had been illegally buried in the landfill, according to the NY Times. The drums contained "paint-manufacturing products, chemical solvents and petroleum distillates," raising concerns about possible "ground-water contamination," according to the NY Times. Shortly after this discovery the Edgemere Landfill was declared a Superfund site, and in 1991 it was permanently shut down. A decades-long remediation process ensued, including the relocation of "over 500,000 cubic yards of trash and debris" by the Yonkers Contracting Company. By 2003, the Department of Environmental Conservation claimed the Superfund site had been "cleaned of all toxins, capped, and closed," according to The Wave.

Mount Edgemere Cap


Edgemere Trench Road


Cap and Motor

Today the Edgemere Landfill is part of the 253-acre Rockaway Community Park, "an unspoiled getaway for all New Yorkers," according to the Department of Parks & Recreation. Inside the former landfill, abandoned Sanitation Department trailers have been taken over by squatters and rusted methane harvesting equipment sits in the bushes. The top of the landfill is covered in short grass and punctuated with dozens of hatches labelled "Danger Explosive Gas." Unlike the Fresh Kills Landfill, there are no signs of passive vents or extraction wells to relieve the gas building up under the landfill cap. At the edge of the landfill, along the shoreline, the cap appears to have been breached on all sides. Debris tumbles into Jamaica Bay from 10 foot high holes. Thousands of bottles, bricks, shoes and plastic toys litter the coast. In some sections, the waterfront is so densely covered in trash that the ground below is invisible, with "bottle beaches" exponentially more intense than anything found at the breached landfill of Dead Horse Bay.

Nothing can be constructed above the Edgemere Landfill until 2021. "The site is being environmentally monitored, required for 30 years after a landfill's closing before any permanent structures may be built on it," according to the NY Times. However, in 2009 a plan was hatched to cover the landfill with a solar panel field, according to the NY Daily News. That proposal remains undeveloped, as does a park planned for the former landfill. "Rockaway can't expect the Edgemere park to open until at least 2019, officials estimate," reports The Wave. In the meantime, Mount Edgemere's cap remains untouched, offering panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, Jamaica Bay, JFK's runways, and Edgemere's ever present housing projects.


Landfill Road



Abandoned Trailers



Squatter Couch



Sanitation Office



Abandoned Boat



Boat Interior



Landfill Breach



Beach Chair in the Breach



Metal Shard Roots



Doll Head



Barnacle Bottle



Bottle Beach



To The Breach



To The Shore

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for taking these photos. This is quite disturbing.

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  2. I'm having trouble locating this place on a map. Any hints?

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  3. The doll head--words fail me!!! A place where squatters hang out near methane caps...who could possibly make this up?

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  4. Please send this to the Mayor's office & to Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of Parks

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  5. When we were kids my father took us out there I'm almost positive. As big as a football field shored up with dirt and filled with something I have little doubt was some nasty stuff. Black and thick like tar. Very disturbing. My mother was horrified and pulled the plug on that little trip. My dad worked for Pfizer Pharm and they apparently were dumping stuff out there in that area. On the weekends they would make extra money going on these dumping runs. This had to be the mid sixties. I was very young but that image still stays with me. I wish he was still here to clarify. Hey, love the site. You do great work. Keep it up

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  6. @John

    Go to Google maps and type "edgemere ny." It's easy to find.

    Great series, thanks for doing something to bring attention to the problem.

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  7. The misuse and mismanagement of Rockaway are endless...and endlessly sad

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  8. I grew up on Beach 32nd St, is that near this awful site

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  9. Great job, thank you.

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  10. On the next episode of History Channel's American Pickers, the boys meet with Hizzoner to haggle for old bottles found along the shoreline.

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  11. It looks like Beach 32nd is located across Norton Basin from the landfill, so it is somewhat nearby.

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  12. Its sad to see...but not so different than 48 years ago...I was born and grew up in the Edgemere projects(1962). Our family was one of the first to live at 51-11 Almeda Ave. This is the closest building to the path leading to the dump. As a child we would walk over to "the dumps" and play, believe it or not. There were always Horseshoe crabs around. It was a fun place but eery at the same time. The park was brand new and a great place for us kids. Actually the projects were a great place for around 10 years. Then around 1970-72 crime had risen drastically and we moved to Wavecrest. I hold FarRoackaway dear to my heart as I know many from there do as well. It is also sad to see what happened to all the bungalows at the beaches and how it is still a waste land today.
    I pray someday it will all come around and hope to get there again someday! Love you Farrockaway!

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    1. Hi Lola Granados,
      I would LOVE to hear more about your memories of Far Rockaway. I am working on a project about Far Rockaway. Please contact me

      ms.zukowski@gmail.com.

      Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you!!

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  13. I road my mountain bike over the mound this summer hoping to add some hills to my rides - It really is not yet ready for recreation. Here is the google map link for those who are interested:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=edgemere,+ny&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=45.822921,93.076172&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Edgemere,+Queens,+New+York&ll=40.605661,-73.777742&spn=0.010785,0.022724&t=h&z=16

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  14. Mr. Kensinger,

    I applaud you for these photos. They truly speak for themselves. Beautiful. Devastating!

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  15. Like Lola, I was one of the first tenants (54-09 Almeda Ave). We playedat or near the dumpsite all the time. There were alot of large families In Edgemere Houses. We had brand new ballfields and plenty of kids to play with -- and a great beach just a few blocks away. Left in 1968 as Mayor Lindsay dumped criminals into a family haven.

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    1. Hi Tom,

      I currently live in Rockaway and would love to hear your memories of Rockaway. I am working on a project about Rockaway and find your story and Lola's story absolutely fascinating!! If you have the time please reach out to me via Email. Thanks so much and hope you're well.

      ms.zukowski@gmail.com

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  16. at least most of that stuff seems real old - 1920s-30s - burn dump - the worst pollutants are going to be heavy metals - which normally wouldn't mitagate too far through the soil - but in the water...hmmm
    - I can show you similar dumps in the Connecticut river - surprisingly this place doesn't look like "bomb crater central" - I guess its not an easy area for bottle diggers - if I were near by I definitely would take a stroll as some of those bottles are bound to be decent (though I just gave away 20 crates myself....old junk isn't terribly hard to find...) certain ones though..

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  17. As someone whose family went from summer residents in the 1920's to full timers in the 1950's to when I finally moved out in 1984, This is so disturbing and depressing I can't begin to tell you. I wish I had more photos of playland, fairyland, the boadwalk, wednesday night fireworks, The rements of the old grand hotels that were turened into summer rooming houses, but we never in a millions years thought that it would be taken away from us and replaced with such garbage. Who could believe that such ONCE beautiful beach front property so close to the city and Brooklyn could remain so desolate. In any other state, that property would be sold to the highest bidder in a heartbeat.Just makes you wonder why! Why was this allowed to happen?? So sad!

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  18. Great photos.The rockaways in a nutshell. Incredible beauty side by side filth.Some moons ago I was a Housing Cop assigned to Edgemere/Arverne. Many nights I would stand on one of the rooftops taking in the projects, the landfill ,jamaica bay and all the abandoned streets. I would always say to myself "what happened". I used to like driving out to the abandoned landfill at night. With the exception of the jets landing at JFK the solitude was incredible. Absolutely nobody around for maybe a mile. It was hard to imagine you were still in the 5 boros of NYC. I grew to love the area and moved to the beach 120's. Now I am back in manhattan but miss the rockaways.

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  19. Will be taking a trip out for St Paddys and will show my daughter"where I grew up". She'll have a hard time believing all my childhood stories could possible coincide with what the area looks like today. But we also moved out after things got bad so some stories have ugliness to them. Wonder if people are investing in the beach front properties, yet???

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    1. fascinating. What did you daughter think?

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  20. This place was alsways a major dumping ground sicne the 60's..used to have many CARS left there, buses, all kinds of large objects dumped besdies the indsustrial waste they found. I grew up not far and no one still cares to clean this up. Nice going NYC...

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  21. Thats disgusting, cars bottles toy parts and whatever else ends up there?... Its such a disappointing move by humanity, if you ask me.

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.

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