The New Jersey Department of Environment (NHDES) is investigating what may be its largest-ever spill of leachate from a landfill—the North County Environmental Services facility in Bethlehem, owned by Rutland, Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems.
NHDES says the incident began on May 1 and lasted until May 3. As reported by New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR), operators arrived to find that a leachate tank had been overflowing all weekend, spilling as much as 154,000 gallons of leachate.
The landfill does not accept trash on weekends and was not staffed while the overflow occurred, according to the state.
The state and Casella say they believe an automated signal failed to fire when a leachate holding tank was full, meaning the liquid kept trying to pump into the tank with nowhere to go. The tank allegedly overflowed, and the leachate traveled through an obsolete pipe that the state says Casella should have decommissioned after a recent expansion.
According to the state, the leachate made it into, and then out of, a surface water detention pond surrounded by a grassy swale on the side of the facility nearest the Ammonoosuc River. Casella, for three years, has been fighting a federal lawsuit alleging they contaminated the river, reports NHPR.
The state says this leachate spill was much larger than most they deal with on a routine basis. Those spills usually involve a leak from the 8,000-gallon leachate trucks that empty the landfill’s holding tanks and take the liquid offsite.
It is still unclear how much leachate made it out of the detention pond. The state is now reportedly sampling nearby soil and groundwater and is considering potential compliance and enforcement actions against Casella.
Casella spokesman Jeff Weld told NHPR that they don't believe any leachate made it out of the pond, which he said has a 600,000-gallon capacity.
"We continue to work with NHDES on the root cause and evaluation of additional impacts, but it appears there were no offsite impacts due to the engineering design of the retention pond forebay," Weld said.
When the spill was discovered, the state says, the company pumped out the affected pond, excavated the soil inside it and began its own sampling for impacts.
Otherwise, the landfill remains open and operating. On May 19, the company broke ground on a new gas capture project at the site.