Penobscot Nation, conservationists concerned about PFAS in landfill runoff


Representatives from the Penobscot Nation as well as environmental and health groups are pushing for tougher regulations on what happens to liquid waste from a state-owned landfill in Old Town as they seek to protect tribal members of the potential dangers of so-called “eternal chemicals”. ”

The Juniper Ridge landfill received more than 800,000 tons of trash in 2020, according to reports filed with the state. Yet the landfill, which is state-owned but operated by Casella Waste Systems, also generated millions of gallons of polluted liquid runoff — known as leachate — that had to be hauled offsite for treatment.

Dan Kusnierz, manager of the Penobscot Indian Nation’s water resources program, said recent tests showed the leachate contained 20 times more PFAS than the state allows for drinking water. Kusnierz said the current treatment system fails to remove these harmful industrial chemicals before the leachate is dumped into the Penobscot River, which is a source of both sustenance and cultural identity for members of the tribe.

“Clean water is of the utmost importance in protecting these practices,” Kusnierz told members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday. “These are not recreational uses but legally protected rights.”

He was among several people who testified in support of a bill that would require treatment of Juniper Ridge leachate to remove PFAS, which is short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals have been widely used for decades as industrial coatings for countless products, including non-stick and water- and stain-resistant fabrics and grease-resistant food packaging. But some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, kidney dysfunction and low birth weight. And PFAS hotspots are now popping up around Maine as a legacy of the state’s industrial past and history of using sludge as fertilizer.

There are currently no wastewater treatment facilities in Maine equipped with the technology to remove PFAS. The treatment plant serving the Madison-Anson area has received federal funding to install a new treatment system to remove PFAS, but that system won’t be operational until next year, at the earliest.

A representative from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said that while the agency agrees with the intent of the bill, the department does not have the staff or the money to carry out the research and drafting of the rules that would be necessary. Instead, the DEP says Maine should wait until the US Environmental Protection Agency completes its research on PFAS in wastewater and sets federal standards.

Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP’s Office of Water Quality, also expressed concerns about what would happen if the state was unable to meet the bill’s July 1, 2025 deadline. to treat leachate from Juniper Ridge or other public landfills.

“In summary, the department supports the objective of this bill to ensure proper treatment of leachate as soon as possible,” Kavanah said. “However, we believe this will be best achieved by implementing EPA standards in a timely manner rather than doing the very laborious and redundant work of developing standards that are unique to Maine.”

But supporters of the bill — including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation and Defend Our Health — said the state could not afford to wait for the federal government to act. They noted that Maine was among the forefront of states that passed stricter PFAS regulations, including drinking water quality standards, as federal agencies were slow to update. current guidelines.

“If we ever hope to allow citizens of the Penobscot Tribe to safely eat fish from their river, it is imperative that sources of contamination are controlled,” Kusnierz said. “We urge you to pass this bill to take an important step in controlling PFAS from Maine-owned landfills and to show that Maine is a leader in controlling PFAS.”

The committee is expected to consider several other PFAS-related bills during this session.


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