State lawmakers will get a briefing on Maine’s sludge disposal crisis Wednesday in preparation for what is likely to be a political battle over a problem that has left sewer plants across the state facing huge price increases, long pickup delays and potential environmental violations.

An employee of Ferreira Trucking gets ready to head off after pumping a load of sewage sludge from Scarborough Sanitary District on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The 1 p.m. briefing of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee was called so members could gather facts, but lawmakers already are exploring possible solutions, including new legislation, financial help for hard-hit municipalities and renegotiating the state’s landfill contract.

Some want to work with other New England states to develop a long-term regional sludge disposal plan.

“The Legislature is committed to finding short- and long-term solutions to manage Maine sludge in a way that protects both human and environmental health,” said Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, a committee co-chair. “But to do that, we need information, a lot more information.”

The committee will hear from both the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Casella, the Vermont-based operator of the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill. The 122-acre Old Town landfill that Maine bought in 2003 is the only one in the state equipped to accept large volumes of sludge.

The sludge crisis began this month when Juniper Ridge abruptly stopped accepting sewage sludge from most wastewater treatment plants. Casella said it lacked enough dry bulky waste to stabilize the wet sludge in the landfill since a state ban on out-of-state waste took effect last month.


The state says that Casella doesn’t have to use oversized bulky waste to stabilize the sludge. On Tuesday, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services – which oversees the landfill contract – said that if it wanted to Casella could tap into large quantities of wood debris to stabilize the sludge.

According to its contract, Maine can’t force Casella to change how it handles sludge, DAFS said.

The state’s long-term operating deal with Casella leaves Maine relatively powerless in this situation.

“The operating services agreement governing how the (Juniper Ridge Landfill) is to be operated allows Casella to make decisions on engineering and management of the landfill, including what volumes and types of waste, within their permit, to accept,” according to a DAFS statement issued Monday.

Brenner wants to ask Casella what it needs to help Maine responsibly manage all locally produced waste.

“I want to learn how to incentivize them to be a good partner and to help us find solutions,” she said. “I think they are putting up some barriers at times, that maybe they could help the state to be a little more creative to find solutions that help protect environmental health.”


Casella claims the sludge crisis was created when the Legislature passed two tough environmental laws, one meant to protect Maine from the spread of forever chemicals, a group of manmade chemicals found in most sludge that pose a risk to human health, and another to extend the life of Maine landfills.

Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips, a committee member, worries that the ban on out-of-state waste caused a crisis that could lead to sewer plant failures and sludge discharges into Maine’s waterways. Soboleski and Rep. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, recently toured the Kennebec Sanitary District.

“It is the contention of sanitary treatment districts that the Legislature created this crisis,” Cyrway said.

Casella and some desperate sewer plant supervisors are asking lawmakers to repeal or at least suspend either the out-of-state waste ban or the ban on composting sludge. Some lawmakers are considering it, but others, like Brenner, say there must be other ways to protect both public and environmental health.

Casella is now trucking what it says it can’t safely landfill – the equivalent of 4,000 tons of sludge every month – out of state. That is causing long, risky waits for Casella’s contracted sludge pickups and driving up disposal costs for most of Casella’s clients.

A dozen sewer districts are considering moratoriums on new sewer hookups until a solution is found.


Casella would not say exactly where it was hauling the sludge, but drivers picking up municipal sludge tell Maine plant managers it is headed to New Brunswick, Canada. Officials in New Brunswick say they are investigating the situation.


In correspondence with its customers, Casella admits it is using some disposal fee hikes to build markets for Maine sludge – at least some of which is known to have unsafe PFAS levels – in states and countries with environmental laws that are not as strict as Maine’s.

“Moving forward, Casella will have to bear the considerable cost of developing new markets for the compost in southern New England, New York and Canada,” a Casella director wrote to the manager of the Brunswick Sewer District last May.

The looming cost to homeowners in public sewer districts is the latest impact of so-called forever chemicals, or PFAS, from the decades-old practice of using sludge as farm fertilizer, leaving behind contaminated fields, wells, produce and livestock.

Last year, Maine adopted a law that banned the spreading or composting of industrial or municipal sludge after farms where sludge was spread through a state-licensed program began to test high for PFAS. Some farms pulled their products off the shelf; a few have closed altogether.

The long-lasting per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals that are found in industrial waste and common household items like cosmetics, non-stick cookware and fast-food wrappers build up in the water, soil and human body over time and pose a significant health risk.

According to the Maine DEP, all municipal sludge tests detected at least some level of PFAS.

The committee’s House co-chair, Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, did not want to talk about the issue before the briefing, an aide said. In a written statement, Gramlich said Maine is “currently navigating the challenges that come with tackling a new and evolving issue.”

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