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State Says Casella Fell Short On Preventing Major Landfill Leachate Spill In Bethlehem, N.H.

Landfill in Bethlehem, N.H.
Casella told the state that up to 154,000 gallons of leachate (otherwise known as garbage juice) overflowed at this landfill in Bethlehem.

New Hampshire regulators say the trash company Casella didn't do enough to prevent a leachate spill at its Bethlehem landfill in May. They’re now asking for action on the issue within a matter of days.

Leachate is sometimes called garbage juice. It’s the liquid that's pumped out of landfills after rain runs through trash. Casella told the state in May that up to 154,000 gallons of leachate overflowed at the Bethlehem dump while it was unattended on a weekend.

They said the problem was a mechanical failure but the spill was contained by a holding pond. It was a much larger spill than the state typically sees for leachate, regulators said at the time, and may have been the largest ever seen in New Hampshire.

In a June letter to the state, Casella promised a series of repairs to address the problem. But the Department of Environmental Services (DES) now says the Vermont-based company's Bethlehem subsidiary is out of compliance with the landfill's permit and state law.

"The incident and reporting indicates a failure to operate and maintain the leachate management system in a manner that controls to the greatest extent practicable spills," DES wrote to Casella Wednesday.

The letter asks for a review of the landfill's entire leachate system by Aug. 1, and monthly status updates on Casella's planned repairs.

DES also wants specifics, by Aug. 1, on how the spill was cleaned up, whether it posed a hazard to the environment and human health, and how Casella will avoid a repeat incident in the short and long term with "temporary operating procedures" or "a permanent resolution."

It comes as Casella awaits a response from DES on a permit to disturb wetlands for a proposed new landfill in the nearby town of Dalton, which has stirred huge pushback in the North Country.

The company is also already facing a federal lawsuit, dating to 2018, for allegedly polluting the nearby Ammonoosuc River with leachate from the Bethlehem facility.

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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