Draft Outline Of Solid Waste Plan Aired

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Waste Management Director Michael Wimsatt testifies on legislation earlier this year.

By Thomas P. Caldwell, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — The Department of Environmental Services has set out seven goals in its efforts to meet waste reduction targets in a draft outline it presented to the Solid Waste Working Group on May 27.

 Reducing the volume of the solid waste stream tops the list.

The Solid Waste Working Group is a statutory committee formed in 2021 to assist DES with planning and policy initiatives in solid waste management. The bill also established a statewide solid waste disposal reduction goal of 25 percent by the year 2030. Rep. Karen Ebel, D-New London, serves as chair of the committee.

DES has not updated its Solid Waste Management Plan since 2003. It plans to complete the update by October 1.

“The idea is that this is supposed to be a document that helps the Solid Waste Working Group to focus conversations,” said Michael Wimsatt, the director of the DES’ Waste Management Division. “The subcommittees have been meeting and talking about potential recommendations … so what we’ve done is we’ve tried to outline the kinds of things that came to mind for us for goals and actions that fall under those goals.”

The draft lists as Goal 1 the reduction of the volume of solid waste; Goal 2 is reducing the toxicity of solid waste; Goal 3 is maximizing the diversion of residential, commercial, and industrial solid waste from landfill disposal; Goal 4 is ensuring adequate landfill capacity for New Hampshire-generated waste; Goal 5 is the development of markets for diverted waste; Goal 6 is encouraging solid waste infrastructure that supports federal climate change initiatives; and Goal 7 is ensuring that the state’s policies and regulations support environmental justice initiatives.

Wimsatt said the department is hoping the working group will provide additional recommendations as the Solid Waste Management Plan shapes up.

“The intention has always been for the working group to advise the department and provide recommendations … as part of the process,” Wimsatt said. “We’re also going to be looking at general public comments. We want to make sure that folks from the general public have the opportunity to comment on it as well.”

When Ebel expressed concern that the working group will not meet for another month and she didn’t want the work “to come to a screeching halt,” Wimsatt said, “I think the department might need to take a break from it. We put a lot of work into developing this. We need some input to move forward. We also need to work on the biannual report. We had to put the biannual report off because of this. It’s always a juggling issue.”

Ebel said the subcommittees that have been meeting prior to the general working group sessions will need to focus on the draft document so they can offer their suggestions next month.

“In the back of my mind, as a legislator, is if there are things that are going to be recommended by this plan, our filing deadline [for legislation] is early November,” Ebel said.


Dr. Stephen Zemba, project director for the engineering firm Sanborn, Head & Associates Inc., of Concord, gave an educational presentation on PFAS, the long-lived chemicals that are presenting challenges for human health and which are accumulating in solid waste landfills.

The spreading of biosolids has long been a subject of controversy because of the concentrations of PFAS that they contain, and more recently there has been concern about the public and private water supplies in southern New Hampshire that have tested positive for PFAS. Zemba’s charts showed that those are only part of the problem.

Much higher concentrations of PFAS are found in fast food wrappers and coated paper products. Other common sources are foundation makeup, carpeting, and clothing.

As those items make it into the waste stream, the PFAS end up in landfills, where the highest concentration comes from “bulky items,” followed by textiles and carpeting. Construction and demolition material contain the smallest concentrations of PFAS.

Zemba also spoke of the relationship between landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Sludge from the treatment plants ends up in landfills, and leachate from the landfills ends up in treatment plants. Removing or sequestrating PFAS can reduce the volume, he said.

Zemba noted that PFAS already have been detected in the human body, with possible implications for immune response, but he said too little is known about the chemicals to say with authority how dangerous they are. He noted that many other chemicals also are present in our bodies, and distinguishing the effects of one or another are impossible at the current time.

He pointed out the positive aspects of the chemicals, as well.

“They’re called ‘forever chemicals’ for a reason,” Zemba said. “That was a manufacturing benefit because they were very stable. One place they get used is a chromium plating facility. Chrome baths are at high temperature and chrome-plating baths will create bubbles, and the bubbles are creating aerosols and the workers get exposed to chromium. You put these chemicals [PFAS] in the baths, you decrease the surface tension of the baths, you decrease the bubbles, you decrease the worker exposure.”

There is debate on how well the chemicals can be destroyed by incineration, and the industry is looking at how to contain them in landfills.

“A well-designed landfill has a double layer on it,” he said, but some chemicals still get out through leachate that collects.

Zemba said it is important to screen surface water to determine what the levels are as part of the monitoring process.

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