August 04, 2020

James River Corp. stands by west Old Town landfill statistics

This column is in response to Another Viewpoint by David LaBrecque and Kathryn Bourgoin (BDN, Oct. 15), regarding James River Corp.’s proposal to construct a secure landfill in west Old Town. I feel I must respond because many of the statements made in the column are not factual or do not accurately represent the case in point. I am sorry LaBrecque and Bourgoin have chosen not to accept my invitation, made while responding to their last column, to discuss the landfill project in detail.

Nevertheless, listed below is a response to each of the points raised by LaBrecque and Burgoin:

(1) The proposed facility will adequately protect people and the environment.

The proposed facility has been documented to consist of 4 to 10 percent naturally occurring slopes, far below the 20-percent slope referenced in the column. This 4- to 10-percent range has been confirmed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and is well below the maximum 15-percent slope required in the Maine Solid Waste Regulations.

The landfill will be located 5.7 miles from the public water supply for the City of Old Town, a distance 30 times greater than the 1,000 feet required by Maine’s regulations. The presence of the wetland to the west of the facility is consistent with the types of soils required for landfills. The regulations require landfills to be built on very tight soils that inhibit seepage of water. By their nature, these soils are found in areas where surface water and/or wetlands are located. Additionally, when it adopted Wetland Regulations, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection specifically recognized the importance of siting landfills in tight soils in order to protect public health and safety.

LaBrecque and Bourgoin indicate that the leachate collection system would be designed to accommodate the worst storm event in the last 25 years. In fact, the leachate collection system will be sized to accommodate the amount of rainfall for a 24-hour, 25-year storm event, plus seven days of rain for the highest monthly rainfall in the past 15 years, plus the pond will have an additional two feet of freeboard.

The writers also indicate that their calculations suggest that the high density polyethylene liner will leak because of concentrated loads and thermal stresses. Forty years of experience with these liners and exhaustive scientific testing indicate otherwise. The liner required by Maine’s regulations is the material of choice for secure landfills here and in many other states. Tests have shown it to withstand the conditions associated with landfills like the one proposed for west Old Town.

Unfortunately, the most blatant misrepresentation of the facts in the column occurs around dioxin. Dioxin is a chemical formed in trace quantities as a by-product of the process that makes pulp white. At current dioxin levels, James River will contribute approximately one teaspoon of dioxin to the landfill over its 20-year life. Although it may only take one microgram to be toxic to a one-pound guinea pig, this guinea pig would have to eat 140 pounds of sludge in one day, or 140 times its weight in order to consume enough dioxin to be toxic.

Research on dioxin is continuing, with the latest results indicating that dioxin is not as potent a carcinogen as originally thought. More specifically, Dr. Robert Squire, D.V.M., Ph.D., the noted toxicologist who performed the original dioxin studies, recently sent a letter to EPA Assistant Administrator LaJuana S. Wilcher that reassessed his earlier research and stated, “Based on all the biological evidence, I do not believe that dioxin poses a cancer risk to humans at any anticipated levels of exposure” (May 24, 1990).

(2) In describing the West Old Town site as a remote location,

we examined several factors including location, topography, and the types of development in the vicinity.

We compared these with what could have been allowed under the Maine regulations. At the west Old Town site, we found the area is relatively low in population density; its nearest residence is set back 150 percent farther than the regulations require; its existing topography allows only a narrow field of view; and the access to the site is along major roads and interchanges, with the road into the site being 1 1/2 miles from the adjoining public road. These factors have led us to describe the site as deep in the woods.

(3) There is no data available to James River from any authoritative source regarding the potential impact on property values resulting from construction of a secure landfill.

Additionally, LaBrecque and Bourgoin incorrectly stated that many paper mills such as International Paper and Scott Paper do not have sludge landfills because of their use of advanced technology. Both IP and Scott use landfills. Although James River does not employ similar waste-reduction technologies (i.e., incineration and silvicultural landspreading), we have through source reduction and recycling, reduced our “waste to landfill” to a level on par with the two paper companies referenced. We are continually evaluating waste-reduction strategies, recycling, and utilization opportunites for our wastes. We currently recycle more than 40 percent of the mills waste.

I once again invite LaBrecque and Bourgoin to meet with me to discuss this project in detail. It is clear to me that a more useful approach to addressing concerns can be accomplished through such a forum.

Wendy Porter is an environmental engineer with James River Corp.

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