Landfill loses leachate treatment
The director of the Marathon County Solid Waste Department told the Environmental Resources Committee on Thursday she may need an additional $1.5 million extra each year to process leachate generated by the Ringle landfill now that Domtar Paper Co., Rothschild, has declined to accept the liquid at its wastewater treatment plant, citing concerns over PFAs (polyfluoroalkyl substances).
Meleesa Johnson said the county has enjoyed “a great relationship” with Domtar where, in the past, the county trucked its leachate to the company’s plant to be treated along with papermaking sludge.
The company, she said, fearful over a PFA lawsuit, will no longer accept the county’s leachate.
The county, if it cannot find an alternative sewage treatment plant, will need to construct and operate its own wastewater facility, Johnson said. The county generates 15 million gallons of leachate yearly.
“I have been working on this for like six months,” she told committee members.
PFAs are a family of up to 8,000 chemicals developed starting in the 1930’s that are resistant to water, grease and heat. These “miracle” surfactant chemicals are found in a whole host of products, including fire fighting foams, Scotchgard stain resistant coatings on clothing and carpet, paints, dental floss, varnishes, nonstick cookware and fast food paper wrappers. The chemicals, which do not break down in the environment, are feared to cause reproductive and developmental harm to people, as well as cancerous tumors.
Johnson said landfills don’t generate any PFAs, but, as a repository for garbage, may be required to keep the chemicals from spreading further into the environment. She said EPA has issued a 70 parts per trillion PFA health advisory and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has issued a 20 parts per trillion limit on PFAs in groundwater.
“That’s of the same magnitude as 20 seconds in 32,000 years,” she said.
Johnson said letters sent to 120 wastewater treatment plants in Wisconsin suggest the need for a 2 parts per trillion cap on PFAs in sewer plant effluent.
The solid waste director said PFAs are nearly everywhere in the environment, including in the blood of polar bears.
She said American manufacturers, such as 3M, have stopped making older generation PFAs but that foreign manufacturers, including those in countries like Vietnam, continue to use and sell products containing these older style chemicals.
Johnson said the “logical solution” to the PFA problem is simply to stop making the chemicals, like industry did with ozone-depleting PFCs several years ago.
“This is not settled, “ she said. “This will be a huge issue. The best solution is banning PFAs.”