The operator of the state-owned landfill told lawmakers Wednesday that Maine’s sludge disposal crisis is over now that it has found a temporary home for sludge in New Brunswick, buying Maine the time that it needs to come up with a safe, affordable long-term sludge management plan.

“We are riding the ragged edge of not having sufficient (sludge) capacity on a daily basis and that problem came to a head here in Maine,” said Clark James, director of operations for Casella, the operator of Juniper Ridge Landfill. “We were able to avert the crisis, but we are by no means out of the woods. I would hope that you could give us a little bit of time so we can reach a longer-term solution that will benefit everybody and return some stability to the marketplace.”

But the Vermont waste management company warned lawmakers that the threat of environmental catastrophe – sludge getting washed out of sewage treatment plants and into Maine rivers – would return if New Brunswick were to follow Quebec’s example and ban the importation of all U.S. sludge. Just last month, Quebec issued a moratorium on the importation of all biosolids from the United States, including sludge from Maine that came into the province through a New Hampshire composting company.

“We don’t think we’re going to get close to that situation again, but that is keeping our fingers crossed that New Brunswick doesn’t close the border,” said Patrick Ellis, strategic alliances director for Casella.

On Wednesday, the manager of the New Brunswick company that is receiving the Maine sludge – Envirem Organics – said he has the provincial permits and capacity to accept all of Maine’s excess sludge and turn it into industrial compost. Last year, it imported almost 15,000 tons of sewage sludge from Maine and neighboring Nova Scotia, provincial records show. But Envirem’s Rob Kiely said it’s too early to know if the province will have the political will to let him keep doing it until the end of the year.

“The science clearly shows what we are doing is safe, and we’ve got permission, but it’s hard for New Brunswickers to understand why they should accept something that Maine won’t,” Kiely said.


Casella and the state Department of Environmental Protection say they need that extra time to find new sources of dry waste that can be used to bulk up the wet sludge that is left over from sewer treatment plant processes so it can be safely landfilled again at Juniper Ridge, build new markets for Maine sludge in states and Canadian provinces that still allow composted or treated sludge to be used as fertilizer, and work out a deal with the new owners of the freight rail line in Maine to haul Maine sludge to landfills in Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

An employee of Ferreira Trucking gets ready to head off after pumping a load of sewage sludge from Scarborough Sanitary District on March 1. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Casella and the DEP said they would probably need until the end of the year before they could lock down any of these short-term sludge disposal alternatives. But neither see shipping Maine’s sludge out of state as a permanent fix. DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim said she hopes to return to the Legislature with a long-term plan to handle Maine sludge disposal within state borders by early next year. She said it’s too early to say what kind of facility that would be, but she warned that permitting and building a new facility can be a difficult, lengthy process.

Maine’s sludge disposal emergency came to light this month when Casella started turning away sludge from three dozen municipal waste treatment plants at Juniper Ridge, the only facility in the state able to accept large volumes of sludge. Casella said two environmental laws that Maine adopted last year – one banning the use of sewage sludge for agricultural use and the other prohibiting out-of-state waste at Maine landfills – drove up sludge volumes at the landfill while eliminating a reliable source of dry waste needed to safely bury the sludge.

Too much of the wet sludge was threatening the structural stability of the 122-acre Old Town facility, Casella told customers, forcing the company to scramble to find a new home for it. Casella said it had started looking for alternative disposal sites after lawmakers adopted the sludge spreading and out-of-state waste bans, but several options they had expected to work out failed to materialize. Out of desperation, Casella struck a deal to start trucking Maine’s sludge to New Brunswick.


Lawmakers grilled Casella executives about why it couldn’t find a solution to a sludge disposal situation that it had known was coming – had in fact warned lawmakers would happen – for about a year and demanded to see evidence that the landfill had become structurally unsafe for sludge disposal. Casella told Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, who had asked to see the engineering report that supported the company’s decision to “pause” sludge burial, that it didn’t want to waste time hiring an engineer to run a structural test when its workers felt unsafe.


Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, accused Casella of coming before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee with excuses and criticisms of the Legislature’s efforts to protect Maine people and the environment from dangerous forever chemicals found in sludge. Both the sludge spreading and the out-of-state waste bans came out of the committee, and many of its members are dedicated defenders of it.

“Instead of using it as an excuse and leverage to try to get rid of really important public policies that prevent pollution and contamination in our state, if Casella could pivot to instead be a partner and help us deal with these issues,” Carney said. “I feel like we’re trying to undo the good work that this Legislature did instead of really working together to solve what I think is a smaller problem than the widespread contamination of PFAS.”

O’Neil and Carney both made it clear during questioning that they considered the state’s contract with Casella to be flawed. However, state officials who oversee the contract said they do not think that Casella violated any of its terms. That same official from the Bureau of General Services said he believed Casella’s assertion that the landfill was structurally unsound when the company decided to stop accepting Maine sludge.

New Brunswick officials say all imported sludge must be approved by provincial health authorities, but note the government doesn’t test or limit PFAS levels of any sludge, local or imported. Kiely said Envirem has established internal PFAS limits on the Maine biosolid imports that are lower than the PFAS limits that Maine had set before the Maine ban. Envirem is also requiring proof the sludge has only trace limits of individual PFAS chemicals that Maine is not even testing for yet, and none of it is being spread or composted on cropland.

Last year, Maine began investigating PFAS contamination at farms where sludge was spread through a state-licensed program. Some farms pulled their products off the shelf; a few have closed altogether. The long-lasting per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals that are found in industrial waste and common household items like cosmetics, non-stick cookware and fast-food wrappers build up in the water, soil and human body over time and pose a significant health risk.


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