The Bulletin Board

Officials say Coakley Landfill Group failed to comply with PFAS cleanup

By: - April 28, 2021 2:05 pm
A girl gets a drink of water

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to various health concerns, such as high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and testicular and kidney cancer. (Getty Images)

This article was updated April 28, 3:29 p.m. to include comments from Eric Spear.

The Coakley Landfill Group has failed to comply with the state-mandated cleanup of Berry’s Brook in Greenland, according to state and local elected representatives.

House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton and Greenland Select Board Chair Steven Smith have both asked the Department of Environmental Services to ensure that the landfill fulfills its legal obligation to reduce PFAS pollution entering the water.

“Contamination still flows into Berry’s Brook in Greenland at levels that the DES has said are unacceptable,” Smith wrote in a letter sent to Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Robert Scott on Monday. In the letter, Smith asks Scott to ensure that effective remedies are implemented.

Cushing also called on the Department of Environmental Services to intervene in the landfill’s handling of the cleanup.  

“In an unsuccessful attempt to comply with the requirements, the CLG (Coakley Landfill Group) installed what the Portsmouth city attorney called ‘sandbags’ in Berry’s Brook,” Cushing wrote to Scott. 

Both Cushing and Smith took Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan to task for his remarks on the contamination problem, after Sullivan said the law required only the implementation of a remedy, without stipulating that the remedy had to be effective. Sullivan is on the board of the Coakley Landfill Group.

“We agreed on a remedy with the regulatory agencies. We paid for it. We implemented it, and we’re done with that,” said Sullivan in a public meeting on April 14.

Eric Spear, the chair of the Coakley Landfill Group, said the group’s mission is to comply with the EPA regulations to protect the health and wellness of the affected communities

Spear said the group has yet to decide what to do next, now that the pilot program has proven to be ineffective. He said the landfill adopted these measures because it was recommended by two environmental consulting groups. 

“We don’t know what the next steps are,” he said. 

The sandbags – which contain a plant-based material that is meant to absorb the contaminants – have not been effective at reducing PFAS levels, according to a recent report by a Coakley Landfill consultant.

“No one goes into this planning for something to fail. This is not the outcome we had hoped for,” Spear said.

In a statement Tuesday, Cushing said he was “horrified” by the attorney’s comments. 

PFAS “continue to dump into Berry’s Brook every day as they have for decades,” Cushing wrote.

Mindi Messmer, co-founder and scientist advocate for the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, called it a frustrating turn of events. Four years after the state sent a letter to legislators flagging this issue, “we still don’t have anything that stops the pollution from going into those brooks,” she said. 

Messmer said the sandbags used by the landfill are not a scientifically valid approach to addressing the contamination. If the landfill had actively blocked the migration of these chemicals, said Messmer, “we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.”

PFAS have been found in wells near the landfill. 

Because they don’t break down over time, PFAS are also commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.” They have been linked to cancer and other severe health problems, causing neighboring states like Vermont to consider proposals that would ban consumer products that contain the chemical, such as firefighting foam and stain-resistant carpeting.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.