Montpelier to consider treating more PFAS-laden ‘garbage juice’

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:53 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A proposal for Montpelier to expand the treatment of millions of gallons of potentially toxic leachate from Vermont’s only landfill is highlighting the broader debate of how to deal with the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances are group of manmade chemicals and they’re in just about everything we use, from food packaging to furniture to fire fighting foam. Our understanding of the chemicals and their toxicity has grown in the years since the 2016 discovery of the contamination of Bennington’s water supplies from the former ChemFab plant.

PFAS have been in consumer products used by Vermonters for decades and many of them eventually end up at Casella’s sprawling landfill in Coventry. Stormwater seeps through the mountain of garbage and leachate containing PFAS and other contaminants is drained through the landfill liner and is collected in tanks. It’s then shipped to the Montpelier wastewater plant, where it’s treated for heavy metals and organic matter. Like all treated and regulated wastewater, it’s released into the watershed, the Winooski River which then flows downstream into Lake Champlain. Right now, there is no way to remove the PFAS from the effluent.

At a recent Montpelier City Council meeting, residents were shocked to learn this has been happening for years. The city has the only wastewater treatment facility in Vermont willing and able to take leachate from regional landfills and remove contaminants.

Newport used to process the landfill leachate, but under a new Act 250 permit issued to Casella for the landfill’s expansion, there is a condition that prohibits the leachate going to the Newport wastewater treatment plant. Other wastewater plants in Vermont don’t have the capacity, leaving Montpelier as the only taker. Under a proposed wastewater permit from the state before the council, Montpelier would triple the amount of leachate it treats and releases into the Winooski.

“I personally am concerned that if we just said no we’re not going to take it anymore, that the filtration would not happen and another community is taking it for years and years. All of the regional communities dump into Lake Champlain eventually,” said City Councilor Lauren Hierl.

Department of Environmental Conservation leaders say the permit would also include increased monitoring and testing of the effluent released. The state permit would also require Casella to look for another solution. The company is looking at ways to pre-treat leachate at the landfill to remove PFAS, but right now that technology doesn’t exist. “What kind of technologies exist to allow you to treat, handle and manage those chemicals without doing any kind of damage to waters of the state or the ground?” said Casella’s Joe Fusco.

Casella is looking at ways to pre-treat leachate at the Coventry landfill to remove PFAS, but...
Casella is looking at ways to pre-treat leachate at the Coventry landfill to remove PFAS, but says the technology doesn’t currently exist.(WCAX)

Some would prefer the chemicals be shipped out of state or require Casella to store them on-site, but environmental advocates say solutions for dealing with PFAS are as complicated as the problem. “We need to first and foremost stop using these chemicals, stop having them being in our products, stop putting them in our waste stream, and then we also need to deal with the PFAS contamination that’s already there,” said Shania Kasper with Community Action Works.

Vermont lawmakers last year started that process banning some products that contain PFAS. And the EPA this week - announced $10 billion as part of the new infrastructure bill to treat and manage PFAS nationally. But state officials say the debate over how to deal with PFAS is a part of a bigger conversation of how to manage what we produce and how we dispose of it.

“We just need to make sure we can manage that process as a whole so that at the end of this process we can have a process that does the work that we need it to and it can provide confidence to Vermonters that the leachate is being treated,” said Vermont DEC Commissioner Peter Walke.

Ultimately, PFAS in the state’s waterways, soil, and even in our own bodies, is here to stay.

Montpelier officials are expected to vote on the proposal to process more of the leachate next month.

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Report: Vt. wastewater plants sending landfill PFAS into waterways

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