Update: State agency releases redacted leachate disposal agreement

The process to assess PFAS treatment options for leachate at state-owned landfills appears to be proceeding without a full understanding of the current disposal arrangements and the mandated engagement of ‘interested parties.’
A leachate pump station
A study of PFAS treatment options for leachate generated at Juniper Ridge Landfill (shown here) and Dolby Landfill has yet to provide an opportunity for ‘interested parties’ to provide input. Photo by Marina Schauffler.

A state agency has released a redacted copy of a leachate disposal agreement between the N.D. Paper mill in Old Town and the operator of the Juniper Ridge Landfill, in response to a Freedom of Access Act request from The Maine Monitor. 

The first article in the agreement suggests that the operator, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems, “shall not be required to pretreat its leachate to meet any permit limits, conditions, or standards.” 

An estimated 16 million gallons of leachate, which forms when water percolates through waste-collecting contaminants, is trucked annually from Juniper Ridge Landfill to N.D. Paper mill’s water treatment plant and released into the Penobscot River without any specialized treatment for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). 

A Legislative Resolve signed by Gov. Janet Mills on May 2 calls for a study to assess the feasibility, time frame and “anticipated associated costs to the state or to the operators of the landfills” of both on- and off-site PFAS leachate treatment options at Juniper Ridge Landfill and Dolby Landfill. The study is being completed this fall by a Cumberland-based engineering firm, Sevee & Maher, that has financial contracts at two state-owned landfills

Redacted portions of the leachate disposal agreement could be relevant to that study, such as text in an opening “whereas” clause, text in a section on “limitations of leachate” and text in a section on termination/suspension. The Maine Monitor sought clarification from the Bureau of General Services concerning the redactions but did not receive a response by Sept. 26, 10 days after submitting questions. 

The Legislature also directed the bureau to “seek input from interested parties that, in the bureau’s determination, are directly affected by the current discharge into the environment of wastewater containing leachate collected at the landfills.” Members of the Penobscot Indian Nation had sought a bill to treat leachate at state-owned landfills for PFAS and legislators wanted to ensure their continued input. 

A meeting for “interested parties” was scheduled for July in Sevee & Maher’s study proposal so that a first draft of its report could go to the bureau on Oct. 1. On Aug. 1, Sharon Huntley, the agency’s communications director, wrote The Maine Monitor that the Bureau “plans to contact interested parties via email and hold one or more meetings to gather input on the study. The first meeting is expected to be scheduled for August.”

On Aug. 31, in response to further Monitor questions, Huntley wrote, “As outlined in the law, a meeting will be arranged to receive input from ‘interested parties’ directly affected by discharge from wastewater containing leachate collected from landfills including: municipalities, tribes, and parties associated with impacted watersheds … That meeting is in the process of being scheduled.”

That day, Daniel Kusnierz, water resources program manager for the Penobscot Indian Nation, emailed the bureau’s director, William Longfellow, to inquire about the status of the study and reiterate that the Nation’s Department of Natural Resources was interested in participating in the “stakeholder group.” 

As of Sept. 26, four weeks later, the Penobscot Indian Nation had received no response.

Update: On October 6, 2022, the Bureau of General Services hosted an online stakeholder meeting. A video and presentation deck of that session are available online.

This project was produced with support from the Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship, awarded by the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler is a writer and editor who explores the complex interconnections between ecology and culture. Her "Sea Change" column, launched in 2014, highlights ways to live more sustainably and address our collective environmental and societal challenges, particularly the climate crisis. She holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and an MA in English/creative nonfiction writing (both from the University of New Hampshire), and an interdisciplinary honors BA from Brown University.
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