Deadline Looms for Decision on Expansion of Dangerous Landfill in Saugus

Wheelabrator's ash landfill poses too big a risk to communities and the environment

The Wheelabrator ash landfill in Saugus sits in the middle of fragile salt marsh and is surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods.

As we close out a month in which the Massachusetts coast was hit with three nor’easters – and narrowly missed a fourth – Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is still considering whether to allow Wheelabrator to continue dumping huge quantities of ash from its trash incinerator into its adjacent landfill in Saugus. The Agency’s provisional decision, issued last November, indicated that it is likely to give Wheelabrator the green light, but MassDEP still has time to reverse course and make the right decision.

The Saugus Ash Landfill Puts the Environment and People at Risk

There are lots of reasons to worry about incinerator ash landfills, but primary among them is that the ash itself is highly toxic – hazmat teams have been called in when even small amounts of ash have been spilled at Wheelabrator’s incinerator. But the company’s Saugus ash landfill is more dangerous than most. It sits directly in a salt marsh – the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern – with no liner and no monitoring of the local water quality.

(Wheelabrator does measure water levels around the landfill, but that is not the same thing as testing the water for harmful contaminants. And the water levels inside and outside of the landfill do not tell the story that Wheelabrator is touting, i.e., that water flows into the landfill, but never flows out. Water level readings indicate that sometimes leachate may be escaping the landfill.)

Besides being located in a fragile salt marsh, the landfill is surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods, many of which are environmental justice communities. (This recent story about the landfill from WGBH offers a helpful look at the risks it poses, including to the health of local community members.)

Enough is Enough – This Landfill Needs to Shut Down, not Expand

Wheelabrator claims its landfill is safe, and in the past, MassDEP has agreed. But CLF, along with local residents, elected officials, and groups concerned about environmental and public health have made it clear: Enough is enough. Wheelabrator cannot continue to line its pockets by operating this landfill despite the enormous threat it poses to health, safety, and the surrounding environment. And MassDEP can no longer ignore its responsibility to protect people and the environment.

This landfill has never been safe, and it only grows more dangerous as it continues to expand in the face of worsening storms and flooding due to climate change.

Although the landfill was supposed to close in 1996, Wheelabrator is again requesting permission to expand its capacity by 400,000 cubic yards (room for about 560,000 tons of ash) in order to extend the life of the landfill for another five to ten years. We expect a decision from MassDEP any day now.

MassDEP has the power to stop Wheelabrator and ensure that the landfill is safely closed and capped once and for all. We are counting on them to protect local residents and the environment by denying Wheelabrator’s request to expand the landfill. Please add your voice by calling Governor Baker and MassDEP Commissioner Suuberg today and letting them know that you oppose any further expansion of the landfill.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.