HARTFORD, CT—The Metropolitan District Commission has filed its second lawsuit of the summer against the state, now alleging that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is responsible for PFAS contamination in the groundwater from the closed Hartford landfill.
The new suit, filed Wednesday, is the latest piece of a long dispute between the two agencies over rates charged to treat the runoff from the former landfill beside I-91 in Hartford’s North End.
The MDC says in its complaint that it first became aware in August that PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are present in the groundwater runoff known as leachate that flows from beneath the capped landfill into the MDC sewage treatment system.
PFAS have drawn wide attention in Connecticut and elsewhere in the region since the massive accidental spill of firefighting foam inside a private hangar at Bradley International Airport. The foam was captured by the MDC system but discharged with stormwater into the Farmington River, raising concerns about the hazards PFAS pose to human health and the environment.
The MDC said an Aug. 1 sample collected from the landfill discharge contained a PFAS level “about ten times greater than the total PFAS detected at the outfall of the MDC Poquonock Water Pollution Control Facility when tested 11 days following a fire fighting foam release resulting from a malfunction at Bradley Airport.”
“Prior to August 2019, the MDC was not aware of the PFAS contamination into its sewer system, and was never advised by DEEP that the landfill could or did release PFAS,” the suit says. “Upon information and belief, DEEP was aware of the presence of PFAS at the landfill and in the groundwater as early as October 2018. Indeed, PFAS is a substance commonly found in landfills.”
The MDC’s treatment plant in Hartford is not capable of removing PFAS from wastewater, so any PFAS contained in the leachate is discharged into the Connecticut River with otherwise cleaned water processed by the facility, the suit says.
“The presence of PFAS in the landfill leachate and eventually in the Connecticut River causes unreasonable pollution,” it says.
Discharging water containing PFAS violates DEEP’s permit for the site, the MDC claims.
In a statement Thursday, DEEP said that it is one of many state agencies working to address concerns about PFAS.
“PFAS in the environment is an emerging contaminant of concern and the subject of significant effort on the part of several state agencies and a Governor’s Task Force.” DEEP said in a statement provided Thursday by agency spokeswoman Kristina Rozek. “We welcome dialogue with MDC about the presence and potential sources of PFAS in sewage treatment systems and strategies to minimize releases to the environment.”
DEEP said the dispute over billing arises from the MDC raising the sewer bill for the site by 2,600 percent in 2016 despite no change in the amount of runoff being discharged into the sewer system.
“The latest suit filed by MDC against the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is just another attempt to extract money from the taxpayers of the state,” DEEP said. “This litigation stems from MDC’s unilateral decision to start charging taxpayers approximately $270,000 per month for the discharges from the Hartford Landfill, up from approximately $10,000 per month.”
The MDC and DEEP have been at odds over the fees since the rate change in 2016, which MDC justified as a correction of an underbilling during a routine review of accounts. The review discovered that DEEP was paying a rate associated with a “large user” that did not include additional fees associated with contaminated groundwater treatment, the MDC lawsuit says.
The MDC says the state refuses to pay what it owes, which burdens an already strained regional sewage treatment infrastructure. The state, for its part of the dispute, says the monthly bills are unfair and exorbitant.
The MDC has an outstanding claim with the state Claims Commissioner seeking more than $8 million in treatment fees associated with the landfill site.
DEEP has managed the former Hartford landfill, which is still the site of the city’s bulky waste and recycling center, since taking it over from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority in 2015. There are two discharge sources for the ground water on the site – one from the ash landfill portion of the facility and one from the municipal waste portion. Runoff from the ash dump is collected in a storage tank for an initial treatment step before it is pumped into the sewer system, and runoff from the municipal waste section is sent into the sewer system without the initial treatment step.
State officials have been working since late July on a PFAS action plan. Gov. Ned Lamont appointed a task force to come up with recommendations for how to prevent spills, remediate contamination and assess risks posed by the toxic PFAS chemicals found in thousands of consumer goods.
State Department of Public Health spokesman Av Harris said Thursday a draft task force report is expected Oct. 1, and a final report to Lamont is expected later in the Fall.