What is Leachate?

Leachate is a liquid that drains or ‘leaches’ from landfills. It usually comes from rain, snow melts or from the decomposition of the waste itself.  It contains a high concentration of toxic chemicals, including PFAS (chemicals used in production of Teflon and other non-stick products).

  • How many gallons of leachate does the landfill produce?  In 2019 over 13 MILLION GALLONS of leachate were produced by the landfill.  The amount of leachate generated increases every year!  more info ….Leachate Trend
  • What happens to all that leachate?  The leachate is collected at the landfill, poured into trucks, and transported to waste water treatment facilities.  The toxic chemicals are NOT removed, and the processed leachate ends up in our rivers and lakes.   more info….

Is leachate poisoning our environment?  Our drinking water?  It is possible.

  • What toxic chemicals are present in the leachate?  There are many, but most importantly is the family of chemicals known as PFAS.
  • What are PFAS chemicals and why are they harmful?
    Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals, including PFOA, PFOS, GenX and many other chemicals. PFAS has been manufactured throughout the world since the 1940s.U.S. industries have phased out the production of PFOA and PFOS because of concerns for health risks. Instead, a replacement PFAS, such as GenX, is being used. Much is known about the risks of PFOS and PFOA, much less is known about the replacement PFAS that is being used in our country, all of which have ended up in our landfills.According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA and PFOS, the most studied of these chemicals, don’t break down in the human body or the environment. These chemicals can be absorbed and accumulated in the body, and remain for long periods of time. And with continued exposure, these chemicals will build up over time causing various health problems.
    more info …..
  • What products that end up as trash contain PFAS?
    A partial list below.

– Non-stick cookware (Teflon, SilverStone, more)
– Rain repellent clothing (GORE-TEX is one example)
– Soil resistant carpet and furniture (Stainmaster, Scotchgard, more)
– Mattresses
= Fast food paper wrappings, pizza box liners

  • Can PFAS be removed from the leachate?
    There are some new methods that can be used to remove PFAS, but the waste water treatment facilities currently DO NOT REMOVE PFAS.

Here is how the toxins from leachate can pollute our environment and our drinking water.

The EPA has stated that eventually all landfill liners will leak, which would allow toxins to pollute the groundwater around the landfill.  Even if they don’t leak, the toxins can enter our environment in other ways, as discussed below.

  1. Rain and snow.  Heavy rain and snow can degrade the soils covering the landfilled waste, and leachate can break out and flow down the slope and into the ground.  Areas near landfills have a greater possibility of groundwater contamination because of the potential pollution source of leachate originating from the nearby site.  Such contamination of groundwater resources poses a substantial risk to local resource users and to the natural environment.  The landfill in Coventry Vermont is located in the watershed of Lake Memphremagog, in the middle of several wetlands, with the Barton and Black Rivers on either side.  There is a great potential for ground water pollution, and the extreme storms that are the result of climate change make the situation much worse.   more info ….
  2. Waste Water Treatment discharge.  The leachate that is collected at the landfill is disposed of in waste water treatment plants.  This process does not remove the toxic chemicals, does not remove PFAS.  The “treated” water from the waste water treatment plants is discharged into a river.   Currently two plants are receiving the Coventry landfill’s leachate.  Montpelier Vermont discharges this polluted water into the Winooski River, and Plattsburg NY discharges it into the Saranac River, both flowing into Lake Champlain.   more info …
  3. Sludge.  An end product of waste water treatment is sludge.  This is the solid mass that is left after the waste water is treated at a waste water treatment plant.  This sludge also contains PFAS chemicals.  When this sludge is used to produce “biosolids” or “organics”, it is often used as fertilizer and is spread on our agricultural fields.  Recent findings at a dairy farm in Maine have shown that this can actually poison our cows and our milk.  Is Vermont grown food and milk at risk?  Read more…..
    Sewage sludge spreading leads to farm groundwater PFAS contamination, from VT Digger, 4/12/20 by Elizabeth Gribkoff

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(Header photo by Jeff Gerade, 2018)

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