The Pine Tree Landfill (PTL) is one of two commercial landfills in the state that accepts "special waste." A look at the "special waste" Casella Waste Systems routinely accepts into the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden reveals a variety of substances with toxins that are hazardous to human and animal life: PERC incinerator ash with lead, cadmium, mercury, and dioxin, PCB oil contaminated soil from an EPA site in Meddybumps, contaminated soil from an EPA site in Saco with elevated levels of lead and chromium, and demolition debris asbestos, to name a few.
On June 11, 2001 Pine Tree received a permit to receive 3,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from Woburn, Mass, the town made famous in the book A Civil Action. This waste, according to the permit, contained elevated levels of chrome, arsenic and lead as well as other heavy metals and contained a wide assortment of chemicals including trichloroethylene. Metal hydroxide sludge, PVC Latex sludge, printing ink sludge, oil spill debris, industrial waste water sludge, and sewage treatment plant sludge are among the many other materials that go into the landfill and present the risk of contaminating local wells and streams.
In the year 2000, before the current expansion was approved, PTL took in 149,346 tons of waste, including over 52,000 tons of PERC ash. In its application for the new expansion PTL projected taking up to 250,000 tons of waste a year, a major increase. But in 2002, PTL took in a much larger amount, over 443,000 tons of solid waste. Then in 2003 PTL took in 566,877 tons and in 2004, 568,133 tons! This waste is going to a landfill that is surrounded by residential homes in all directions, which rely on deep bedrock wells for their water. Casella's own engineering studies show that there are fractures in the bedrock around the landfill. The closest residence & their drinking well is 800 feet from the site-a variance DEP granted of the 1,000 foot setback solid waste regulations require. This waste is going to a "secure" landfill, located on top of a "conventional" i.e. unlined, landfill that is located over three sand and gravel pits, surrounded on three sides by the Souadabscook Stream and its tributaries. The present expansion brings it to within 350 feet of the Souadabscook. In the spring, the floodplain of the stream brings it closer still. Casella's own engineering studies show that groundwater flow runs from the landfill towards the Souadabscook.
The Souadabscook is a Class A Waterbody; this requires water below the site be as clean as water above it. The Souadabscook runs into the Penobscot River two miles downstream from the landfill, just below the Emergency Drinking water supply for the town of Hampden. In September of 1999, Hampden citizens learned of a crack in the cover of the conventional landfill 150 feet long, due to uneven settlement of asbestos & other material. According to Casella's August 1999 application before the DEP, a crack was first noticed in 1997. In a June 9, 1999 letter from Richard Wardwell (the town's engineer) concerning settlement readings: "the secondary compression of the waste with the increased loadings is more than 10 times the magnitude initially anticipated in the 1994 and 1996 reports..." Many of our concerns have to do with the future performance of the landfill caps and liners and the consequences if that technology fails.
From September 18, 1999 to September 19, 1999, there was a fire burning underground at the Hampden landfill, 50 feet deep in one area, which required fire departments from four towns and the Air National Guard to contain. The Deputy Fire Chief's report refers to an underground fire that "could burn indefinitely." The Fire report states that fire officials believe the fire had been burning internally for up to six months. The fire continued to smolder for a number of days after the 19th. In 2001, there were three separate fires at the landfill: on 6/16/01, 9/9/01 and 10/21/01. In 2002, there was a serious fire at the landfill in August. The landfill, in its operation, takes in demo debris and other solid waste which includes PVC. PVC, when burned, emits dioxin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that a level of dioxin contamination of one-trillionth of a gram of exposure for one person is "of concern." (BDN March 15, 2001) The landfill produces methane, which is flammable; tire chips are used as fill, also extremely flammable, and indeed, the landfill has had a history of fires. PVC is landfilled on a regular basis in the form of pipes, vinyl siding, flooring, tiles and other material. So when there is a fire at the landfill, there is a public safety threat to the citizens of Hampden. Dioxin particles can be inhaled in the lungs, or settle on leafy vegetables in backyard gardens and then be ingested as food. Odor problems have been continuous for the last five years.
In 2002, PTL reported exceeding Action leakage rates four weeks in a row - from Feb. 11-March 4 in 2002, which indicate problems in the liner system of the landfill. In a Feb 3, 2003 letter to the town Wardwell wrote: "It has become evident that the landfill impacts to both groundwater and surface water quality have not improved since the Conventional Landfill was capped with the Secure III liner construction. If anything, water quality has degraded based on the increasing parameter trends in some sampling locations."
In a 2004 report on PTL water quality to the Town of Hampden , , Wardwell states "groundwater contamination has been detected in all quadrants surrounding the landfill." He writes of vinyl chloride, dichloroethene, benzene, arsenic and other inorganic/metal contamination of the groundwater surrounding the landfill. He states in the report that groundwater contamination discharges into the Souadabscook and Cold Brook Streams. This constitutes an unlicensed discharge, and in the case of the Souadabscook, to a Class A waterbody. Pine Tree issued its own water quality report for 2003 and reported historically high concentrations of many parameters in the groundwater in 2003.
Hampden has lived with this landfill since 1975. In 1998 a majority of the town's voters opposed expansion of this commercial landfill, which profits by taking as much waste as it can possibly can, including truckloads from out of state, from places like the Woburn, Mass site. But the state has ruled that our zoning ordinances have no say on landfill expansion.
Attend Meetings & Participate!
Make a contribution!
Report the Smell
Help us build a record on Pine Tree Landfill
Note location, time, wind direction
Volunteer as a
Phone Tree Helper
On Monday, November 24th at 7:00 p.m. the Town of Hampden's
environmental consultants will report to the Town Council on water
quality, landfill gas migration, site stability and other environmental
issues. The meeting is open to the public; please come if you're
interested. There will be an opportunity for members of the public to
ask questions and perhaps make comments.
The Pine Tree Landfill will reach its capacity and stop accepting waste
sometime in 2009 and the closure process will proceed. But issues of
groundwater contamination and gas migration will continue well beyond
the date of final closure.
An agreement has been reached between DEP, Cassella and the Town of Hampden to close the landfill. See more...