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Bill Lippincott of Hampden is the chair of Don’t Waste ME, a coalition of impacted community members and tribal leaders.
In a recent OpEd, Wayne Boyd, Casella Waste Systems’ general manager at Juniper Ridge Landfill, highlighted the issue of “forever chemicals” found in the leachate produced by our state-owned landfill. Don’t Waste ME, a citizens action group that supports waste policies that strengthen communities and protect the environment, is deeply concerned about this class of toxic, man-made chemicals. Only a few are regulated, however, they can be harmful to human health in even small amounts. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds — also known as PFAS — are used in a multitude of everyday products and are now ubiquitous in the environment, even found in human blood.
Boyd makes a distinction between the “producers” and the “managers” and “receivers” of PFAS, in an apparent effort to distance Casella from the PFAS problem. However, Casella has contributed to this crisis, and continues to profit from exacerbating it.
Casella disposes of millions of gallons of leachate into the Penobscot River every year. Tests showed that some of this leachate contains PFAS at levels 20 times higher than Maine’s drinking water standard. The river is a source of traditional sustenance fishing important to the Penobscot Nation. While fishing is a vital cultural practice, it now poses a risk to human health.
One way PFAS gets into the landfill leachate is through the increased importation of oversized bulky wastes. Casella continues to seek permit revisions for increased amounts of oversized bulky wastes with claims it needs it to stabilize growing quantities of landfilled sludges coming to Juniper Ridge. However, landfill experts dismiss the use of oversized bulky wastes for sludge stabilization. Bulky waste provides areas where landfill gas can collect adding to the risk of fire and explosion.
We see the increased importation of bulky waste at Juniper Ridge as a means for Casella to further profit from the tipping fees received from disposing of this waste at the landfill, and a way in which it contributes to the PFAS problem in Maine. Much of the bulky waste buried at Juniper Ridge comes from out of state because of a loophole in the law. Our bill, LD 1639, will close this loophole.
Boyd goes on to throw up his hands in defeat and makes the misguided assertion that landfilling and composting sludge are the safe options we have for dealing with PFAS. What he fails to mention is that Casella has also profited from selling PFAS-contaminated compost at their Hawk Ridge facility in Unity.
Using sludge in compost is unsafe. Careful landfilling of sludge offers a stop gap. Sludge must be dried and stabilized, protected from water infiltration, and contained in appropriately lined and sited facilities. Leachate must be pretreated on site for removal of PFAS before any discharges can be released.
Taxpayers should not be paying the brunt of remediation costs. The chemical companies that make PFAS must pay their share of the costs for remediation and infrastructure, as should Casella, which is contractually obligated for all pollution control at the Juniper Ridge Landfill.
The toxic liability cannot be shunted off by one state onto another. Industry officials warn that moving forward proactively will cost too much. The truth is it is already costing us too much. PFAS remediation is enormously expensive. If we don’t make the hard choices now, we’ll pay much more down the road.