ROCHESTER — The Rochester landfill which accepts close to 40 percent of the state’s solid waste is under fire after it was discovered that workers there shipped wastewater containing extremely high levels of PFAS chemicals to facilities in Massachusetts and Maine.
Turnkey Landfill is the main landfill serving the Seacoast, with over 21 million tons of refuse buried on more than 1,200 acres of land on Rochester Neck Road. It accepts asbestos, biosolids, industrial waste and municipal garbage, among other things.
Since 2012, federal and state regulators in Massachusetts have renewed a permit that allowed Turnkey to send runoff to Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility. That relationship ended last week amid outcry over the high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals found in the shipped landfill wastewater, or leachate.
The Lowell plant drains into the Merrimack River, which provides drinking water for more than 500,000 people. City officials in Lowell say their drinking water treatment facility is equipped with carbon filters that remove PFAS and testing of the river has shown “an exceptionally low level” of the chemicals, but that still has residents on edge, according to media reports.
Similarly, in Maine, there are concerns about Turnkey sending wastewater with PFAS in it to Anson-Madison Sanitary District in Somerset County. That plant discharges into the Kennebec River and accepted more than 250,000 gallons of leachate from the Rochester facility in December 2018 and January 2019.
Turnkey Landfill is owned by Waste Management. Spokesperson Garrett Trierweiler said that only a fraction of the leachate collected in Rochester was sent out.
“The wastewater is treated on site in Rochester and then some, a small portion of that, was being sent to Lowell,” Trierweiler said.
Trierweiler explained the company was in compliance with all of the requirements of their permits while shipping wastewater to Massachusetts and Maine.
Trierweiler further noted that it is not fair to compare the leachate tests, which showed levels as high as 9,700 parts per trillion for some types of PFAS, to drinking water requirements.
“There are no wastewater standards for these components at this time and when they are established, we intend to meet them. In the meantime, we are in the process of evaluating additional treatment technologies to address these compounds,” Trierweiler said.
Rochester Neck Road, where Turnkey is located, is used mainly for industrial purposes with the exception of the Gonic Trails, located across the street from the landfill.
According to state data, some groundwater contamination has been found around the Rochester landfill. This came up when Turnkey officials were requesting the use of an additional 60 acres of land last year.
Waste Management officials say a specific source of those chemicals is not known. They point out that the facility does not take hazardous waste.
There is also a double composite liner system twice the federal minimum standard in place to prevent chemicals from getting into the groundwater near Turnkey.
“Waste Management has, and always will, operate our facilities in a manner that is fully protective of human health and the environment,” Trierweiler said.
Waste Management provides solid waste collection services for residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers in 48 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Puerto Rico.
The company’s third-quarter earnings for 2019 were $3.97 billion compared to $3.82 billion for the same period in 2018.