WORCESTER, MASS.—On Oct. 31, 2020, the plaintiffs and defendants in a contentious public health and environmental lawsuit filed a stipulation of dismissal with the United States District Court for Massachusetts, bringing a close to a significant chapter in the dispute over the Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, a 51-acre solid waste landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
Representing Toxics Action Center (now Community Action Works) and Environment Massachusetts, NELC attorneys filed suit against Casella and the Town of Southbridge in 2017, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and federal hazardous waste law. Joining the suit were 33 families who alleged that leachate from the landfill had contaminated their drinking water wells with 1,4-dioxane, lead, and toxic chemicals, and who sought relief under Massachusetts state law.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) also stepped in to take administrative action against the landfill, and the twin legal proceedings have had a considerable impact.
Seventeen months after the NELC lawsuit was filed, Casella and the town stopped receiving waste at the landfill, and Casella and the town subsequently completed supplemental response measures, under the direction of MassDEP, designed to stabilize the remaining waste and reduce leachate migration. They are now working to install a “cap” on the landfill to eliminate or substantially reduce the influx of rainwater. While this will not wholly eliminate the discharge of leachate from the landfill to nearby
groundwater, it will reduce the migration of leachate that would otherwise be caused by the flow of rainwater through the landfill. Further, Casella and the town have funded a $10 million waterline that provides municipal water to homes whose wells were contaminated—or were at risk of contamination—by landfill pollutants.
With the recent settlement of the lawsuit, the individual families are receiving a substantial financial payment from Casella and the town as compensation for the contamination of their drinking water aquifer.
Moreover, District Court Judge Timothy Hillman has granted an Oct. 30, 2020, motion from NELC attorneys asking him to vacate a previous opinion he had entered dismissing the federal environmental law claims from the lawsuit. The plaintiffs agreed to waive their right to appeal the dismissal of those claims in order to enable the broader settlement of the lawsuit to take place.
“We strongly disagreed with the opinion dismissing the federal environmental claims and had looked forward to the opportunity to secure reversal in an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals,” explained NELC Litigation Director Chuck Caldart. “However, we felt it was more important to facilitate a beneficial settlement for the affected community, and the judge’s order vacating the dismissal opinion means it will be taken off the books and not be a precedent for future cases.”