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Lake Memphremagog, a cross-border environmental issue

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb6,2024

Lake Memphremagog, a cross-border environmental issue< /p>Open in full screen mode

The president of the Memphrémagog Conservation organization, Johanne Lavoie, fears that water from an American dump will eventually be released into the lake.< /p>

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Citizens of Estrie fear for Lake Memphremagog due to a project to pre-treat water from the dump of a Vermont management company garbage. They are calling on the federal and provincial governments to put pressure on the Vermont government to prevent the discharge of harmful pollutants into the lake.

It’s the jewel of the Eastern Townships, Lake Memphremagog, declares Johanne Lavoie with pride when we meet her in Magog, on the shores of the lake, on a freezing January afternoon. It’s water, it’s life, continues the president of the Memphrémagog Conservation organization, which works to protect the body of water.

At the very end of it, in the small American town of Coventry, the company Casella Waste Systems operates a landfill site where waste from several American states is transported.

All of this waste produces leachate, also known as trash juice. The latter must be treated, among other things because it contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which can have long-term consequences on the health of humans exposed to them.

To do this, the American company built a water pretreatment plant on the land of its landfill site. She hopes to obtain a permit from the Vermont government in the coming months in order to begin a pilot project there.

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Johanne Lavoie points out the location of the Casella Waste Systems landfill in Coventry.

Leachate from the landfill is currently being trucked to the Vermont state capital, Montpelier, under a moratorium in effect until 2026.

But for the Memphrémagog Conservation organization, the construction of a factory near the lake, the possible granting of a permit for the Casella Waste Systems pilot project and the imminent expiration of the moratorium open the door to a possible discharge of pretreated water into Lake Memphremagog.

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One of the sources of this concern is that there is a precedent: until 2019, water was treated at the sewage plant in the city of Newport, on the edge of the Lake Memphremagog, then discharged towards it. A study from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation reports that in 2021, water treated and discharged from plants in Newport and Montpelier had PFAS levels above state limits.

Johanne Lavoie insists: she is not opposed to the treatment of leachate, on the contrary. It is rather the destination of the discharged water that concerns her. What we hope is that the leachate never returns to Lake Memphremagog.

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Lake Memphremagog extends from Estrie to Vermont, in the United States.

In an interview, the vice president of Engineering and Compliance at Casella Waste Systems, Samuel Nicolai, assures that this is not being considered. There are no plans to transport the leachate to the city of Newport or develop an on-site treatment system that would allow discharge to the lake, he says. He insists: the leachate will continue to be transported by truck to Montpelier.

Information confirmed by the program manager at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Amy Polaczyk. The permit with which we work […] only authorizes the discharge of water towards the Montpelier wastewater treatment plant. We have not received a request to examine possible discharges from the site to Lake Memphremagog.

Despite the explanations from Casella Waste Systems, the Memphrémagog Conservation organization remains concerned. The water pretreatment system designed by the company does not live up to its expectations, and in the event of a spill into the lake, PFAS could end up in its watershed.

This is why Memphrémagog Conservation is calling for a permanent moratorium to be put in place to succeed the one which expires in 2026. The organization is calling on the federal and provincial governments to defend the idea from that of Vermont.

It’s rare that we receive time as a gift. This is what we gave to our governments, and they should use it better.

A quote from Johanne Lavoie, president of Memphrémagog Conservation

The full professor in the chemistry department of the University of Sherbrooke Céline Guéguen also believes in the relevance of a permanent moratorium, since PFAS worries her.

It’s very alarming, says Ms. Guéguen. These are new compounds, but data shows they may interfere with human hormones. And the water from Lake Memphremagog is our drinking water. So we would, potentially, have drinking water that contains PFAS.

The professor recalls that the lake serves as a source of drinking water for 175,000 Quebecers in the region. It is nevertheless difficult to know the long-term consequences of these PFAS, because we have only understood their harmfulness a little better in recent years.

The file is well known to Quebec parliamentarians: in 2021, elected officials unanimously voted for a motion asking that leachate from the Coventry landfill never be dumped into the lake.

Last December, the MP for Orford and president of the consultation table of elected officials on Lake Memphremagog, Gilles Bélanger, submitted a petition to the National Assembly demanding exactly the same thing.

We are better […] with a precautionary principle, he explains in an interview. In other words, he says he is open to two options between now and the end of the moratorium in 2026: either the company Casella Waste Systems develops a water pretreatment system that eliminates as many PFAS as possible, or the moratorium is renewed indefinitely. .

If we don't agree with the way they treat the leachate, if it's not enough, the moratorium will continue. But to fight on this, we must not use all our cartridges three years in advance. The file is evolving.

The state of Vermont regulates five types of PFAS, although there are thousands. These five compounds are at the heart of our concerns, admits the vice-president of Casella Waste Systems. But we have not selected a treatment that only eliminates certain compounds or that would be designed only to meet minimum regulations, defends Samuel Nicolai.

The Ministry of the Environment of Quebec and that of Canada refused our interview requests, but assured in writing that they were both working with their American counterparts to ensure the protection of the lake.

Until then, Johanne Lavoie continues to hope that a permanent ban on dumping water from a dump into Lake Memphremagog will be put in place. It is our children, then our grandchildren who will drink this water.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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