For Immediate Release - May 02, 2011

Operator of Municipal Waste Incinerators to Pay $7.5 Million to Resolve Multiple Environmental Violations

BOSTON - The operator of three Massachusetts municipal waste incinerators has agreed to pay $7.5 million to resolve allegations that it emitted ash through holes in the roofs of two of its buildings, failed to properly treat and dispose of its ash, repeatedly dumped wastewater into a surrounding wetland, and failed to report a sudden release of hazardous material to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

Wheelabrator Saugus and Wheelabrator North Andover allegedly committed multiple violations of the Hazardous Waste Management Act by failing to properly treat and dispose of ash, and the Clean Water Act by failing to contain fugitive ash. Wheelabrator Millbury and Wheelabrator Saugus allegedly committed violations of the Clean Water Act and the Wetlands Protection Act by releasing ash contaminated water and ash sludge into waterways or wetlands.

"Corporate responsibility is paramount if we want to preserve our communities and maintain the beauty and safety of our Commonwealth," said AG Martha Coakley. "We are grateful to those who initially raised concerns with us about Wheelabrator, and are pleased that Wheelabrator has taken the steps needed to set its three facilities on a safe path for the future. Working together with MassDEP, we have reached a settlement that will ensure continuing environmental oversight of these facilities as well as a return of dollars to both state and local budgets and help for the affected communities."

The Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force launched an investigation into violations by Wheelabrator in September 2009 after two individuals, one current and one former employee of Wheelabrator Saugus, approached the Attorney General's Office over concerns about environmental violations at the Saugus facility. A third individual, an employee of Wheelabrator North Andover, brought additional information about violations at the North Andover facility to the attention of the AG's Office in July 2010.

"Municipal waste collection is an important public service, but waste incineration triggers many important environmental regulations, and strict compliance with those regulations is required in order to ensure that the public health is protected," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. "Wheelabrator fell far short of meeting some of the most basic requirements and the settlement today, which is the highest ever for a state case arising out of environmental violations, reflects the seriousness with which MassDEP takes this requirement. Protecting public health and the environment must be priority one for Wheelabrator from this day forward."

The three Wheelabrator facilities, which can process up to 1,500 tons of municipal solid waste per day, all generate ash, which contains contaminants such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic. According to a court complaint filed today by the Attorney General's Office in connection with the settlement, the Wheelabrator facility in Saugus allegedly failed to properly treat ash prior to its disposal. The AG's lawsuit also alleges that there was a hole in the roof of the Ash House at Wheelabrator Saugus, allowing ash to be released into the air. The complaint further alleges that the company used municipal water to clean the Saugus plant and its equipment, held the resulting wastewater in portable storage tanks, and then emptied the tanks into the facility's parking lot and surrounding wetlands. The wetlands are part of the Rumney Marsh, which is a designated area of Critical Environmental Concern.

The AG's complaint alleges that, in September of 2009, a Geotube, a large filter used for removing ash from water broke open at the Saugus facility, allowing 8,000 gallons of ash sludge to spill into the parking lot and adjoining vegetated wetland. Wheelabrator failed to notify MassDEP as required for timely response under state hazardous materials laws. The company then allegedly excavated surrounding wetlands without obtaining approval from the MassDEP or the Saugus Conservation Commission.

Concerning the North Andover plant, the AG's complaint alleges that there was a hole in the roof and side wall of that facility's Ash House, enabling ash to be released into the air surrounding the plant. The North Andover plant also allegedly transported untreated ash to landfills in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and stored it in an outdoor, "cooling pond" or "clarifier," which it then dumped into a storage area.

MassDEP has conducted inspections of all three incinerators within the past month. At each plant, Wheelabrator outlined for MassDEP the changes it had made in operations and procedures to ensure compliance with environmental laws. Based on these inspections, MassDEP is confident that the three Wheelabrator plants no longer present a current threat to human health or the environment.

The complaint also alleges that in March 2010, the landfill in Shrewsbury used by Wheelabrator Millbury for ash disposal, dumped ash on an ice shear, which collapsed, causing 15,000 gallons of ash water and 450 cubic yards of ash to wash into the adjacent brook and wetlands.

Wheelabrator admits no wrongdoing in resolving these allegations. It has agreed to pay a total of $7.5 million under the terms of the settlement, directed as follows:

  • $4.5 million to create a Municipal Fund that the AG's Office will distribute to municipalities that paid Wheelabrator Saugus and North Andover for trash incineration services;
  • Two payments totaling $2 million for civil penalties arising from multiple environmental violations;
  • $500,000 donation to the Massachusetts Natural Resource Damages Trust; and
  • $500,000 for a supplemental environmental project or projects, to be approved by MassDEP and the AGO, designed to improve the environment in the vicinity of Wheelabrator facilities.

In addition to the monetary component, Wheelbrator must immediately hire an independent environmental auditor to monitor the company's compliance with environmental regulations. The company will be subject to unannounced inspections by the auditor for the next three years.

The Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force is an interagency unit, which is overseen by AG Coakley, MassDEP Commissioner Kimmell and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan. The Strike Force comprises prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General's Office, and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP, which investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state's water, air or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.

This case was handled by Andrew Rainer, Chief of the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, Chris Barry-Smith, Chief of AG Coakley's Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau, Assistant Attorneys General Betsy Harper of the Environmental Protection Division and Emily Armstrong and Matthew Connolly of the Consumer Protection Division, Financial Investigator Amanda George, Officers of the Massachusetts State Police and the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

MassDEP's Environmental Strike Force spearheaded the technical investigation for this case. That team included Strike Force Director Pamela Talbot, Strike Force investigators Timothy Dame, Dana Muldoon, Stephen Spencer and Richard Tomczyk, as well as investigators and inspectors Cathy Kiley, Jennifer Macionus, Greg Levins, John Macauley, Karen Golden-Smith, John Carrigan, Dave Adams, Ed Braczyk, Cosmo Buttaro, Muhammed Ahsan, Lynn Welsh, and Maria L'Annunziata of MassDEP's regional offices.