Representatives from the Penobscot Nation, as well as environmental and healthcare groups, are pushing for tighter regulations regarding liquid waste from Old Town’s state-owned landfill. This is to protect tribal members against potential dangers from so-called forever chemicals.
According to reports filed with state, the Juniper Ridge Landfill saw more than 800,000 tonnes of waste in 2020. However, the landfill, which is owned but managed by Casella Waste Systems (the state), also produced millions of gallons od polluted liquid waste known as leachate that needed to be taken off site for treatment.
Dan Kusnierz is the Penobscot’s water resources program manager. He said that recent tests showed that the leachate contained 20x as many PFASs as the state allows. Kusnierz claimed that the current treatment system fails in removing these industrial chemicals before the leachate enters the Penobscot River. The river is a source of both food and cultural identity for tribal members.
Kusnierz spoke Monday to members of the Legislatures Environment and Natural Resources Committee about how clean water is crucial for protecting these practices. These are not recreational, but legally protected rights.
He was one of several who testified in support for a bill that would require Juniper Ridges to be treated for PFAS. PFAS stands shortfor per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. These chemicals have been used for decades in industrial coatings for many products, including nonstick and water and stain-repellant fabrics as well as grease-resistant food packaging. However, some PFAS have been linked with serious health problems like cancer, kidney dysfunction and low birth weight. PFAS hotspots have been identified in Maine, a result of the state’s industrial past and its history of using sludge to fertilize.
Maine currently has no wastewater facilities that can remove PFAS. Although federal funding was granted to Madison-Anson’s wastewater plant to install a new treatment system for PFAS, it will not be operational until next spring.
Representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection stated that, while they support the bill’s intent, the department doesn’t have the money or staff to conduct the necessary research and rulemaking. Instead, the DEP believes that Maine should wait for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete its research on PFASs in wastewater and establish federal standards.
Brian Kavanah, Director of the DEPs Bureau of Water Quality expressed concern about what would happen if it was not able to meet the July 1, 2025 deadline to treat leachate at Juniper Ridge and other state-owned landfills.
Kavanah stated that the department supports the bill’s goal to ensure proper treatment of leachate as quickly as possible. We believe that this can be achieved by implementing EPAs standards quickly, rather than wasting time and labor developing standards unique to Maine.
Supporters of the bill, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Defend Our Health, stated that the state cannot wait for the feds’ to act. They noted that Maine was among the first states to adopt stricter regulations on PFAS, including drinking-water quality standards, due to federal agencies being slow in updating current guidelines.
Kusnierz stated that if we want to allow Penobscot tribe citizens to safely eat fish out of their river, it is essential that contamination sources be controlled. We urge you support this bill in order to take an important action to reduce PFAS emissions from Maine-owned landfills. This will also show Maine that it is a leader in controlling PFAS.
The committee is expected take up several other PFAS-related legislation this session.