The 51-acre Coventry landfill has long been a focus of environmental activists for alleged leakage of dangerous materials, but now the landfill’s management is responding to those criticisms, and reminding the public that the company plays a critical role in maintaining a clean environment in Vermont.
The landfill, operated by Casella Waste Systems, just finished a six-year process to expand, and the approval process involved the Agency of Natural Resources, the Act 250 Commission and the state Department of Health.
In a recent interview with True North, the company’s vice president, Joseph Fusco, said the Casella is now actively responding to “conjecture, untruth, and misunderstandings” about the site, and that the approval process involved thorough scrutiny of environmental concerns.
“In nearing all the evidence and taking all the testimony they realized that this facility is well run and has no adverse impact,” he said.
State Toxicologist Sarah Vose, of the Department of Health, also told True North the landfill is safe.
“As with any chemical present in the environment, the health risk depends on how much of the chemical people are exposed to, and for how long,” she wrote in an email. “In the case of PFAS levels in the leachate from the Coventry landfill, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) determined that the levels of PFAs present in the leachate would not lead to a measurable increase in human exposure.”
PFAS are polyfluoroalkyl substances, one of the chemicals at the top of the list for health concerns.
Fusco says the environmentalists need to turn their attention towards concerning societal trends such as massive consumerism and nondegradable materials.
“It’s not the landfills that manufacture these chemicals like PFAS; instead it is a wider societal problem of having these things in our products,” he said. “So we’re certainly looking for ways to improve the way that leachate or wastewater is processed, and I think we’re going to share some of those findings with the state soon.”
One of the primary environmental concerns regards nearby Lake Memphremagog, which shares the northern border with Canada. A group called the Memphremagog Conservation Inc. last July sent a letter to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation asking for a review of the landfill’s impact on water quality.
“We believe that the precautionary principle must be applied given the ecological and recreational tourism importance of Lake Memphremagog and because the lake is a drinking water reservoir for more than 175,000 residents of the Eastern Townships of Quebec,” the letter states.
Fusco notes that Canadian facilities have less strict standards for PFAS, and such should be taken into consideration before new demands are made on the Vermont side.
“The real threat we feel to Lake Memphremagog is water being discharged from the Canadian side of the lake,” he said.
Fusco says until there are viable alternative solutions, landfills will continue to play an essential role in society’s waste management.
“I think while we would all like to kind of blink our eyes pretend that landfills don’t need to exist, they do,” he said. “While we kind of work towards a future where we can eliminate the concept of waste completely, landfills are a bridge to that future.”
Casella Waste Systems owner John Casella also weighed in on the issues, noting in a recent commentary that his entire career has focused on environmental benefits of his work.
“As a lifelong Vermonter I have been a staunch advocate of the environment for my entire life,” Casella wrote. “Over the last 45 years I have surrounded myself with the most forward-thinking, hardest working, and intellectually capable people in the waste management industry and together we have worked every day to build a world-class environmental services company.”
But the Conservation Law Foundation is one of the company’s top critics, and the organization claims that landfill is a threat to clean water and air.
“We know that the landfill is already leaking pollution into the groundwater and emitting methane and other dangerous chemicals in the air,” Kirstie Pecci, senior fellow at Conservation Law Foundation, wrote last year concerning the site. “It is also contaminating Lake Memphrémagog, a drinking water source for towns in Canada. We don’t need Casella to bring 500,000 more tons of waste a year to the site for an additional 22 years. It’s already so tall people call it Mt. Casella.”
She added that the state doesn’t need “this dangerous expansion” to manage waste.
“In fact, the state has been reducing its waste, diverting it to be recycled or composted instead of trucked away to a landfill,” she continued, saying the landfill is “accepting increasing amounts of waste from out of state.”
But as John Casella sees it, that focus is misguided, as the landfill only receives products created by society.
“I respect my fellow Vermonters who are passionate about protecting the environment. I am, as well,” he wrote in his commentary. “However, I challenge you to refocus your efforts on the true source of these emerging contaminants — the products coming into our state — and not on the infrastructure designed to protect us at the end of their life cycle.”