MONTPELIER — Levels of toxic PFAS from leachate in treated water leaving the Montpelier Waste Water Treatment Facility are well within national safety guidelines, according to a team monitoring the levels.
Kurt Motyka, assistant director of public works, told city councilors on Wednesday that PFAS in leachate processed in Montpelier were measured at 69.5 parts per trillion, just under the health advisory limit of 70 ppt set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the state has set a much more cautious limit of 20 ppt, Motyka added.
Motyka and state environmental officials made a presentation to the council following media reports of concerns about higher levels of PFAS found in treated water at wastewater treatment facilities in Montpelier and Newport.
Newport, which had PFAS levels of 65 ppt has since stopped taking leachate as a result of the Coventry landfill’s new Act 250 permit to expand the facility.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of so-called “forever chemicals” that do not break down in the environment. Heat resistant and water repellant, they were widely used since the 1940s for non-stick cookware, in waterproofing garments, and as a fire-fighting foam.
PFAS have been found in food, commercial household products, production facilities, biosolids, leachate, drinking water and living organisms, said a report presented to the council. Studies have found that PFAS can cause cancer, damage organs, the reproductive system, and lead to low birth weight.
In 2016, the Department of Environmental Conservation began a study of PFAS in drinking water and surface waters after water supplies in the Bennington and Clarendon areas were found to be contaminated as a result of nearby industrial manufacturing processes.
Montpelier is the largest receiver in the state of leachate, at nearly 11 million gallons in fiscal year 2018, Motyka said.
Motyka’s report to the City Council notes that the city built a receiving station at the wastewater facility in 2002 to accept septage (from septic tanks), and leachate (liquid that leaches from landfills).
The report notes treatment processes are not able to remove PFAS from wastewater. While the EPA and the state had set health advisory limits for PFAS in drinking water, the state had not yet set a PFAS limit for wastewater discharges, the report states.
The report also states the Montpelier facility was the only viable treatment option for leachate with the lowest environmental impact. If Montpelier stopped receiving leachate, it would have to be trucked out of state to other wastewater treatment facilities, but trucking would increase Vermont’s carbon footprint, the report added.
“This is an emerging contaminant and we’re still doing a lot of sampling and trying to get a handle on where things are with it,” Motyka said. “There’s no discharge limit in Vermont for wastewater.”
State officials noted that all landfills and wastewater treatment facilities tested had varying levels of PFAS chemicals.
Lawmakers recently passed Act. 21, requiring the Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with surface water standards for PFAS levels by 2024. However, the state also is waiting to see what the EPA established as “ambient water quality levels,” based on PFAS presence in aquatic species as a guide to risk to human health, by 2022.
Speaking after the meeting, Motyka said the issues of PFAS in leachate would not affect the $16.5 million expansion of the wastewater treatment facility to handle more “high strength waste,” such as dairy and brewery byproducts that would provide an additional revenue source for the city.