For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Big Discharge Slated for Merrimack River – Water Source for Half-Million
Washington, DC — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is spending millions to control and remove toxic “forever chemicals” from its waters, even as it approves a permit to discharge massive amounts of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the Merrimack River, which supplies drinking water for 500,000 people, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Adding insult to injury, the PFAS dumped into Commonwealth waters comes from a New Hampshire landfill.
On September 25, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MaDEP) issued a federal and state Clean Water Act permit for discharge from the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility, and Combined Sewer Overflow outfalls at nine locations into the Merrimack River, Beaver Brook, and Concord River. The permit becomes effective on November 24, 2019.
The permit allows the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility (MA) to accept leachate from the Turnkey landfill in Rochester (NH) containing levels of PFAS compounds more than a hundred times higher than federal and state health guidelines. Specifically, the Turnkey leachate contains 8,200 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA, 430 ppt of PFOS, 330 ppt of PFNA, and 810 ppt of PFHxS. By comparison, EPA has a Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS. Meanwhile, Massachusetts is poised to issue a drinking water and groundwater standard of 20 ppt for the sum of six PFAS compounds, including the four being discharged by the Lowell permit.
“This permit elevates working at cross purposes to an insane degree,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, pointing out that the wastewater plant will not remove any of the PFAS and may heighten PFAS levels in the discharge. “Massachusetts cannot have both a PFAS emergency and a business-as-usual permitting policy.”
While Massachusetts has a role, EPA is the lead regulatory agency. In response to public comments raising this issue, EPA indicated that it is not yet legally required to prevent PFAS discharge into surface waters and “reserves [its] broad discretion” not to. Further, EPA concedes that the permit “does not require monitoring for these pollutants during this permit cycle but EPA may require monitoring in a subsequent permit.”
“Incredibly, EPA concedes it can but won’t prevent discharge of toxic chemicals into the drinking water source for a half-million people,” added Whitehouse, noting that the permit has a five-year life. “Even worse, EPA will not even monitor how much of these harmful compounds will reach peoples’ taps for them to consume.”
PEER is asking Massachusetts legislators to adopt an emergency provision in the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act that would ensure that discharges containing the six PFAS substances soon to be regulated by MaDEP are monitored as a function of any permit, and that no regulated PFAS in excess of departmental recommended limits for drinking water is discharged into the surface waters of the Commonwealth.