Maine-owned landfill at center of PFAS contamination concerns

A redacted leachate disposal agreement has spurred interest from stakeholders awaiting answers regarding PFAS contamination in the Penobscot River.

In response to a Freedom of Access Act request from the Maine Monitor, an undisclosed state agency has released a redacted copy of a leachate disposal agreement between a paper mill in Old Town and the operator of the Juniper Ridge Landfill.

Within the 2019 agreement, it is suggested the operator of the landfill, NEWSME Landfill Operations—a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems—was not required to “pretreat its leachate to meet any permit limits, conditions or standards.”

According to the Maine Monitor, an estimated 16 million gallons of leachate is trucked annually from the Juniper Ridge Landfill to a water treatment plant owned by ND Paper Inc., based in Oakbrook, Illinois.

Landfill leachate sent for treatment to the ND Paper-owned wastewater treatment plant has been at the center of recent concerns regarding PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination in the Penobscot River. In April, the state Legislature passed L.D. 1875, which aims to implement plans to treat PFAS effluent in state-owned disposal sites.

Under L.D. 1875, state-owned waste disposal facilities would be required to treat landfill leachate in order to reduce the concentration of PFAS to the highest extent possible. The bill also requires treatment to occur prior to its shipment to a wastewater treatment facility or for the leachate to be sent to a facility for PFAS reduction.

In response to the bill, Gov. Janet Mills signed a resolution in May to call for a study to assess the feasibility, time frame and “anticipated associated costs to the state or the operators of the landfills” affected by the proposed legislation. The study is being completed this fall by a Cumberland-based engineering firm, Sevee & Maher Engineers Inc., that has financial contracts at two state-owned landfills.

Redacted portions of the leachate disposal agreement could be relevant to that study, reports the Maine Monitor, 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.

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 was tentatively scheduled for July to gather input for the feasibility study from stakeholder groups affected by the PFAS discharge, however; it is reported no such meeting has taken place yet. As of Sept. 26, the Maine Monitor reports the Penobscot Indian Nation had received no response regarding the status of the study.