Biosolids are moved along a conveyor and sent down a chute into a container below. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor officials are calling out state lawmakers and demanding they take action to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

The open letter comes a day after officials from Casella Waste Systems were questioned by Maine lawmakers about the company’s recent and abrupt decision to stop taking wastewater sludge from more than 30 treatment plants across the state. The pause in sludge collection and disposal has led to piles of the material — full of toxic forever chemicals — forced to sit inside treatment plants.

Wastewater treatment plant operators like Bangor’s Amanda Smith — who wrote the city’s letter with Bangor City Manager Debbie Laurie — have said if something isn’t done to prevent this from happening in the future the toxic sludge may inadvertently be dumped into rivers throughout the state.

Smith and Laurie also called Mainers to contact state lawmakers and demand a responsible and sustainable solution to the state’s looming sludge crisis.

Two weeks ago, Casella Waste Systems told more than 30 wastewater treatment plants that it would no longer put their sludge, which contains the more solid components of wastewater, into the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.

The announcement sent Maine wastewater treatment plants scrambling to find another place to send their sludge and avoid sending it into Maine waterways — a worst-case scenario.

“In the event we cannot remove biosolids from the system, we, like many others, will be in the position of violating federal law by discharging untreated sewage into the Penobscot River (and other waterways),” Smith and Laurie wrote in their letter. “Consequently, catastrophic damage to our infrastructure will occur, culminating in untold environmental, health, and economic consequences.”

The Bangor Wastewater Treatment Plant, which processes sewage from Bangor, Hampden and Hermon, is now sending most of its sludge to Canada, causing the facility’s annual disposal cost to shoot from $400,000 to $1.2 million.

maine’s sludge crisis

Casella cited two laws – LD 1639 and LD 1911 – for the reason why it suddenly couldn’t accept biosolids.

LD 1639, which was signed into law in April 2022 and went into effect in February, prohibits out-of-state bulky waste from entering Maine. Casella said it relies on that bulky waste, which could be anything from discarded furniture to large appliances, to stabilize and support the structure of landfills. Since it’s receiving less bulky waste, Casella can’t take as much sludge.

Meanwhile, LD 1911 prohibits biosolids from being applied to the land over concerns about PFAS in the biosolids that would leech into the soil. This gave communities no other option but to send their sludge to the landfill.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...