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Ben Hellerstein,
Environment Massachusetts

Environmental groups to sue Casella Waste Systems over pollution from Southbridge, Mass., landfill

For Immediate Release

Southbridge, Mass. — Toxics Action Center and Environment Massachusetts announced today that they have sent a formal notice of intent to sue Casella Waste Systems, Southbridge Recycling & Disposal Park, and the Town of Southbridge over the contamination of drinking water and a nearby stream and wetlands by the Southbridge Landfill.

“After twenty years of toxic chemicals leaking from the landfill, those same chemicals have been discovered in homes throughout Charlton and Sturbridge — homes that were previously clean,” said Kirstie Pecci, local landfill opponent, “It would be foolish and irresponsible to call this a coincidence. We hope this lawsuit serves as a wake-up call to Casella and all those who have turned a blind eye while their neighbors were put in harm’s way."

The groups allege that the Landfill’s pollution of surface waters violates the federal Clean Water Act, and the Landfill’s contamination of groundwater presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” as defined in the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 

“We’ve been working with local  residents through the Clean Wells group for over a year now, trying to make sure that families in Charlton, Sturbridge, and Southbridge don’t have to brush their teeth with bottled water for fear of exposure to carcinogens in their tap water,” said Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center. “Given the problems they’ve already created, we are extremely frustrated that Casella is trying to expand this landfill. We’re calling on the Baker administration to do the right thing by putting the brakes on this reckless expansion.”

The Landfill is owned by the Town of Southbridge, but is operated by Casella and its subsidiary, Southbridge Recycling, and is permitted to accept more than 400,000 tons of waste per year.  Casella is one of the largest solid waste collection firms in the Northeast, manages the disposal of more than three million tons of solid waste in landfills each year, and recorded more than $500 million in revenue in 2015.

“Anyone who thinks expanding this landfill is a good idea is trying to do a snow job on us,” commented Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG, which promotes policies that aim for zero waste. “Landfills across the state are old and leaking and we need to reduce waste, not increase trash and big holes in the ground to dispose of it.”

The groups’ citizen enforcement suit would address the extensive groundwater contamination they allege is caused by the Landfill:  more than forty nearby drinking water wells in Charlton and Sturbridge have tested positive for the presence of 1,4-dioxane (a suspected carcinogen often found in landfill leachate), chlorinate volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE, another carcinogen), and/or lead.  Casella’s own reports to the Massachusetts Department of Environment Protection (“DEP”) show that the Landfill has for many years been discharging high levels of these pollutants into groundwater.

“We are one of the many families residing in the neighborhood near the Southbridge Landfill with a contaminated well. Our well water test results this summer exceeded the state guidelines for 1,4 Dioxane along with TCE at the upper limit. Our home is now one of 10 homes having detections exceeding drinking water standards,” said Kevin Weldon of Charlton, “Facing no potential solutions and the continued use of bottled water for the foreseeable future, our hope is this suit will at least begin to put in motion a means to solve this nightmare.”

The groups also allege that the Southbridge Landfill is discharging high levels of 1,4-dioxane and lead, as well as iron, copper, arsenic, barium, manganese, and cyanide, into wetlands surrounding the facility.  Contaminated groundwater from the Landfill flows directly into these wetlands, and Casella’s reports to DEP indicate that the wetlands contain many of these pollutants in concentrations that exceed Massachusetts water quality guidelines.

“Contamination of these wetlands is unacceptable. Wetlands play an integral role in Massachusetts waterways,” said Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts, “These wetlands connect to McKinstry Brook and must be protected.”

Despite the ongoing risk to human health and the environment presented by the Southbridge Landfill, DEP is nonetheless considering whether to allow Casella to expand the boundaries of the Landfill and to allow it to accept even greater amounts of refuse. 

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s citizen suit provision allows private individuals and organizations to sue owners and operators of waste disposal facilities that endanger human health and the environment.  The Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision allows private citizens affected by violations of the law to bring an enforcement suit in federal court.  Under both statutes the first step in the process is providing notice to the violators, as well as to state and federal environmental agencies.  Citizens can seek a court order requiring compliance with the law and mitigation of the threats to public health, and, under the Clean Water Act, can seek civil penalties.

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Toxics Action Center is a non-profit organization that works side-by-side with communities throughout New England to prevent and clean up pollution at the local level.

Environment Massachusetts is a citizen-based non-profit environmental advocacy organization that promotes clean air, clean water, and open space protection.  It is a state project of Environment America.

The groups are represented by the Boston-based, non-profit National Environmental Law Center, which represents citizen groups across the country in actions to enforce the nation’s environmental laws; and attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts.