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Bethlehem Landfill Owner Dismisses Threat of Pollution Lawsuit, Days Before Key Vote

Courtesy Woody Little
Toxics Action Center

Environmental groups say they plan to sue a Bethlehem landfill owner for allegedly dumping contaminants into the Ammonoosuc River.

The news comes just days before a Town Meeting vote on a plan to expand the site.

Vermont-based Casella Waste Services is dismissing the threat as a political stunt.

The announcement came from two Boston-based nonprofits – the Conservation Law Foundation and the Toxics Action Center, where Woody Little is an organizer.

He says a ditch at the North Country dump has been draining the heavy metals iron and manganese, as well as 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen, into the river for the past five years – all without a required federal permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"There are elevated levels of those three contaminants down-river from the landfill, versus up-river,” Little says. He says their evidence includes a 2013 study by an independent consulting firm.

The advocates are giving the landfill 60 days to fix the problem, by seeking a permit or treating the runoff, before filing suit.

But Casella vice president Joseph Fusco says they'll wait to see if that happens.

“We’ll vigorously defend ourselves against these and any other baseless claims if they actually file the lawsuit that they’ve threatened,” Fusco says.

Credit Google Maps
The Bethlehem landfill is seen in a satellite picture, just south of the Amonoosuc River.

He says the landfill has a clean bill of health from New Hampshire regulators, and nearby residents who fear contaminants will leach into drinking water wells have nothing to worry about.

Fusco calls the threat of a suit "pure theater" meant to sway voters at next week's town meeting.

"I think it's more about the anti-landfill crowds desperately trying to salvage their weak campaign against this vote,” Fusco says, “and it's less about a genuine concern about the environment."

Bethlehem residents will vote at Tuesday’s town meeting on a controversial plan to expand the landfill by about 100 acres, before it reaches its capacity in a few years.

Little, from the Toxics Action Center, says the lawsuit and the vote are separate issues.

The Department of Environmental Services monitors surface and groundwater at the landfill as part of its state permit. A spokesman says they weren't aware of the pending suit and can't comment.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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