BETHLEHEM – Toxics Action Center and Conservation Law Foundation held a news conference Thursday saying they have issued a formal notice to Casella Waste Systems, Inc. that they intend to file a lawsuit against Casella for illegal discharges of pollutants from the Bethlehem Landfill into the Ammonoosuc River.
Residents of Bethlehem and the area carrying anti-Casella signs gathered at the news conference on a footbridge over the Ammonoosuc in Littleton. The event was posted live on Facebook.
The legal notice alleges that a drainage channel collects leachate and contaminated groundwater from the landfill and discharges it into the river in violation of the Clean Water Act. The pollutants include iron, manganese, and 1,4-dioxane (a suspected carcinogen). The notice also alleges that this discharge is causing or contributing to water quality violations in the Ammonoosuc River.
According to Kevin Budris of the National Environmental Law Center, the presence of 1,4-dioxane, and elevated levels of iron and manganese in the landfill’s discharges to the Ammonoosuc River indicate that the wastewater discharges contain landfill leachate (liquid that has passed through landfill waste and contains soluble or suspended materials from the waste) and groundwater contaminated by activity at the landfill.
“The leachate and contaminated groundwater are themselves pollutants under the Clean Water Act. Part of the concern here is that these discharges are not adequately monitored, so there may be additional pollutants commonly found in leachate and groundwater contaminated by landfilling in the wastewater at the site,” Budris said.
Casella Waste Systems didn’t respond to a request for comment.
James Martin, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Services, said he couldn’t comment without more detailed information.
Woody Little of Toxics Action Center said: “It is outrageous and unacceptable that Casella’s landfill is leaking into the Ammonoosuc River yet they are still trying to strong-arm the town into expanding the facility. Casella is not the good neighbor they claim to be.”
Tom Irwin, director of Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire, said, “Expanding this landfill is not only illegal but a menace to the health and well-being of North Country residents living in its shadows. It is time to stop expanding toxic landfills and start protecting communities by reducing waste at its source through recycling and other efforts.”
The Bethlehem Landfill is operated by Casella and its subsidiaries, New England Waste Services, Inc., and North Country Environmental Services, Inc. (the owner of the Landfill). Casella is currently seeking authority to expand the size of the Bethlehem Landfill through a Zoning Article and an Article to instruct the Select Board to negotiate with Casella. Both articles will be voted on Tuesday, March 13. The town rejected similar articles to allow expansion of the landfill last year.
Dean Knapton, a local business-owner and Toxics Action Center member, lives along the Ammonoosuc just six miles downstream of the landfill in Littleton. “I’ve lived in this area for almost 40 years,” said Knapton. “I have a house 20 yards from the riverbank that I am going to put in a trust when I retire. It’s about time Casella cleaned up their mess, so my grandkids can enjoy the river like I have without putting their health in danger.”
Kristina Zontini, a Toxics Action Center member, has been organizing with local citizens’ groups to stop further landfill expansion, and is working to stop Casella at the ballot box on Tuesday. “For years, we’ve seen pictures of discolored sludge running into the river, and heard about high levels of pollutants. You don’t swim or fish down river from the landfill anymore,” said Zontini. “Not only has Casella been exploiting and dividing our community for decades, this ‘state of the art facility’ has also been threatening our health and natural resources.”