BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced on Monday that the operator of three Massachusetts municipal waste incinerators has agreed to pay $7.5 million to resolve alleged environmental violations.
Wheelabrator North Andover and Wheelabrator Saugus allegedly committed multiple violations of the Clean Water Act by failing to contain fugitive ash and the Hazardous Waste Management Act by failing to properly treat and dispose of ash. The companies also allegedly committed violations of the Wetlands Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by releasing ash sludge and ash contaminated water into wetlands or waterways.
"Corporate responsibility is paramount if we want to preserve our communities and maintain the beauty and safety of our Commonwealth," Coakley said. "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 lawsuit alleges that the Wheelabrator facility in Saugus, Mass., failed to properly treat ash prior to its disposal and that there was a hole in the roof of the ash house at that facility allowing ash to be released into the air.
The suit further alleges that the company used municipal water to clean the 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 wastelands.
The complaint also alleges that in September 2009, a large filter used to remove ash, called a geotube, broke open at the Saugus facility, which allowed 8,000 gallons of ash sludge to spill into the parking lot and adjoining vegetated wetland. The sudden release of hazardous material was allegedly not reported to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and MassDEP was also not contacted before Wheelabrator allegedly excavated surrounding wetlands.
Coakley's complaint alleged that there was a hole in the roof and sidewall of the North Andover, Mass., facility's ash house. Coakley also alleges that the plant transported untreated ash to landfills in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and stored it in an outdoor "cooling pond" before dumping into a storage area. The complaint also alleges that in March 2010, the landfill in Shrewsbury, Mass., used by Wheelabrator Milbury for ash disposal dumped ash onto an ice shear that collapsed and caused 15,000 gallons of ash water and 450 cubic yards of ash to wash into the adjacent wetlands and brook.
Under terms of the agreement, Wheelabrator will pay $4.5 million to create a municipal fund for Coakley's office to distribute to municipalities that paid Wheelabrator North Andover and Saugus for trash incineration services. Two payments totaling $2 million for civil penalties arising from the alleged multiple environmental violations will also be made, as well as a $500,000 donation to the Massachusetts Natural Resource Damages Trust and $500,000 for a supplemental environmental project or projects to be approved by the AGO and MassDEP to improve the environment in the vicinity of the Wheelabrator facilities.
Wheelabrator must also hire an independent environmental auditor to monitor the company's compliance with environmental regulations. The company must be subject to unannounced inspections by the auditor for the next three years.
Wheelabrator admits no wrongdoing in resolving the allegations.