Home News and Features Montpelier Has Stopped Taking Landfill Leachate

Montpelier Has Stopped Taking Landfill Leachate

Photo of brick building with wastewater treatment center in front.
Montpelier's Wastewater Resources Recovery Facility. Photo by Lauren Milideo.
by Lauren Milideo

Montpelier may lose about half a million dollars in income because it has stopped accepting landfill leachate at its wastewater treatment facility, city staff said at a recent city council meeting. The move happened because elevated levels of E.coli were found in treated water after processing leachate from Vermont’s only lined landfill, in Coventry.

During the June 8 council meeting, city finance director Kelly Murphy said income from accepting landfill leachate not only ended in May, but was not included in the water and sewer fund budget for fiscal year 2023. The plant stopped accepting leachate for treatment in May when problems believed to be related to leachate arose with the plant’s UV disinfection system, said city engineer Kurt Motyka in an email. 

According to Science Direct, leachate is made up of rain and other fluids that travel through trash in a landfill, then periodically gets drained from the site. Montpelier charges for processing leachate through its wastewater treatment plant. 

Motyka said the problem first came to light when he found high levels of E. coli in effluent — the fluid that leaves the treatment plant — on April 27. He said the level came in above the plant’s “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit limit,” which is 77 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters. A sample taken at 6:30 a.m. that morning underwent a 24-hour test and returned a count of 114 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters. Per the US Geological Survey, E. coli in water can cause various illnesses in humans.

“This final effluent E. coli result of 114 CFU/100 mL is considered a permit violation,” Motyka said, “but is not considered an untreated discharge as defined by the permit definitions.” He also said “The flow total for treated partially disinfected final effluent during the time of non-compliance was calculated to be 2.38 [million gallons].”

Another test the next morning showed 64 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters, Motyka said. He added that “(t)he impact from this non-complying discharge to public safety and the environment is minimal,” noting that the Vermont Department of Health deems water containing up to 235 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters safe for swimming.

“We believe leachate impacted the effectiveness of the ultraviolet disinfection system,” Motyka said, adding that the city is working with an engineering consultant to determine next steps. 

Motyka noted that no longer accepting landfill leachate has cost the city about $100,000 since May. As well, he said, the water and sewer fund, without revenue from treating landfill leachate, loses another $400,000 in the FY2023 budget. 

It remains unclear when the plant will again be able to treat and accept landfill leachate (and resume charging for the service), Motyka said. 

The city had already planned to stop accepting landfill leachate unless the leachate had been pretreated for removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which was scheduled to go into effect in July 2023. Landfill leachate is high in PFAS, which are linked to multiple health problems in humans. 

Casella engineer Joe Gay said in an email that leachate from the Coventry landfill “is currently being transported to the Franklin (New Hampshire) and Plattsburgh (New York) wastewater facilities.” In the longer term, the company hopes to pretreat the landfill’s leachate while “work(ing) with our regulators to be certain there is always an outlet.”