MCI denounces inaction on Vermont chemical treatment plant

MCI denounces inaction on Vermont chemical treatment plant

By Lawrence Belanger

Local Journalism Initiative


Memphrémagog Conservation Inc., the Canadian environmental group focused on protecting Lake Memphremagog from pollution, is continuing its ongoing struggle to prevent the construction of a chemical treatment plant south of the border in the US state of Vermont. Johanne Lavoie, MCI President, expressed frustration at a lethargic response from local, provincial, and federal officials.

“The government has lawyers, biologists, and the resources and power to go forward and take leadership,” said Lavoie over the phone. “We’re only volunteers,” yet it was them, along with their American allies DUMP (Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity), that successfully negotiated a moratorium on PFAS dumping, via Newport VT’s wastewater treatment facility, into the lake in the first place.

Recently, the American waste management company Casella was granted permission to build a pilot PFAS treatment facility at its landfill site in Coventry, VT, situated near Lake Memphremagog. Under the terms of the moratorium, if they can demonstrate technology that removes PFAS from leachate, they can resume disposing of it locally.

After MCI and DUMP appealed the plant’s permit in January, MCI has pivoted now to focusing on getting Canadian elected representatives of the regions that would be impacted to take more leadership and to enforce existing international law meant to prevent this very issue. In a letter sent to media by the Board of Directors of MCI, current president Lavoie, Vice President Pascale Bédard and outgoing President Robert Benoit, denounced government inaction towards protecting the lake.

“It is unacceptable that contaminated water coming from the United States, containing PFAS, pollutes Canadian waters. Leachate must be diverted from the Lake Memphremagog watershed forever,” read the letter. It asked if elected officials were willing to fight, or if they would wait to act before it’s too late and PFAS is present in the lake at dangerous levels.

The negotiated moratorium expires in 2026, after recently being extended. “We got this moratorium in order to give our elected officials time to act to protect the lake,” explained Lavoie. Instead, she says that the intergovernmental roundtable consisting of federal, provincial, and municipal officials from around the lake has met only occasionally, never published minutes, and has not invited or included MCI in its deliberations.

“The table was created almost four years ago specifically after the signing of the moratorium,” explained Lavoie. MCI is not aware of any goal nor action plan. “Will they issue a press release soon?” she pondered.

Known as forever chemicals due to how long they remain present as a pollutant in the environment, they are present in much of our society’s waste products. For Lavoie and others at MCI, this is a clear violation of Article IV of the International Boundary Waters Treaty, signed between the United States and Canada, which states that “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”

The lake basin, which provides drinking water to approximately 170,000 residents of the Townships, flows south-to-north, and is part of the St. Lawrence River watershed.

MCI’s letter states that the treated water “will undoubtedly be discharged into Lake Memphremagog.”

In a previous statement, however, Casella said that their permit did not allow for the PFAS to be dumped into the lake. “The permit allows leachate to be sent to the wastewater treatment facility in Montpelier, Vermont,” said Jeff Weld, Casella’s Manager of Communications. “It will not be taken to the nearby Newport, Vermont treatment facility at this time,” he added.

Much of the issue for MCI comes down to them simply not trusting what a private company says at face value. “You have a private company doing this for a government, what are the guarantees that they have the best interest?” asked Lavoie.

“Today, there is no treatment known that has been able to take out all the PFAS contaminants [from leachate],” said Lavoie. The company may state that they have new or experimental technology, but she asks “how can we be assured that the company has it in its mind to protect 175,000 people? Are they really concerned about their health?”

Manon Bureau, communications officer for Compton-Stanstead MP Marie-Claude Bibeau, who sits on the table, referred The Record to Gilles Bélanger, MNA for Orford, stating that he was the spokesperson for the group. Questions sent to his office regarding the roundtable’s meeting schedule, minute keeping, and resolutions/goals went unanswered by press time.

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