ITHACA, N.Y.—County Line Materials Recovery Facility, a not-yet operational waste transfer facility in Cayuta, was permitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to accept municipal and commercial waste. They were also permitted to transfer the resulting leachate to the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility (IAWWTF) 

Leachate is the result of water percolating through waste, and extracting compounds that are often harmful to the environment and human health, unless its properly treated.

But one big problem with County Line’s plan to dispose of the leachate: the IAWWTF never knew that the waste transfer facility would be sending it leachate to process.

City of Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock, Chair of the IAWWTF Joint Committee, said at the committee’s meeting this week that County Line “did not reach out to the plant with regards to including the plant in their permit. They didn’t seek approval from the plant or create an application to submit any discharge to the plant.” 

The environmental watchdog organization, Seneca Lake Guardian, is  preparing to challenge the DEC’s decision to issue County Line a permit for operation over alleged technical violations that the waste transfer facility made in its application.

The DEC has not yet issued a statement at the Ithaca Voice’s request for comment.

The group’s legal challenge will rest on the technical violations they argue the DEC made in issuing the permit, but they have have also raised concerns that its likely that the waste County Line would bring to the IAWWTF will contain PFAS, or , or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — artificial long lasting chemicals connected with a variety of hazardous health effects, like decreasing fertility, cancer, and liver damage.

Though the concern of the IAWWTF ejecting treated wastewater full of PFAS after treatment into Cayuga Lake is not warranted, said Brock.

The entrance of the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility on 3rd Street in the City of Ithaca. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The IAWWTF, after treating wastewater, is permitted to eject it deep into Cayuga Lake, a drinking water source for many residents of the municipalities near its shores, including residents in the Towns of Ithaca, Dryden, Lansing, and Ulysses. The facility is operated through a joint agreement between the Town of Ithaca, the Town of Dryden and the City of Ithaca. 

Seneca Lake Guardian’s initial messaging around County Line was aimed at informing members of the public who draw their drinking water from Cayuga Lake, of a potential contamination risk for the water body. The watchdog group stated that it is working to prove that members of the public would be harmed by the project in its challenge against the DEC. 

PFAS are a challenge for wastewater utilities. Effective treatment protocols and techniques are still being developed for PFAS by regulatory agencies, and they can pass straight through some treatment processes. IAWWTF is able to remove PFAS to a degree, said Brock, but she emphasized that if the IAWWTF were to treat waste transferred to it by County Line, it would only do so after testing it for its concentration of PFAS and other substances, and determining if the facility could treat that waste effectively. Otherwise that waste would be turned away. 

“We pride ourselves on our dedication and commitment to protecting Cayuga Lake,” said Brock. 

Jill Heaps, an attorney with EarthJustice representing Seneca Lake Guardian in their appeal against the DEC’s decision, said that the agency’s decision to permit County Line bears the marks of strong “technical violations.”

Heaps said that County Line did not demonstrate in their permit application with the DEC that the IAWWTF had agreed to receive the waste it would be transferring, or show that the IAWWTF could properly dispose of the waste it would be transferring.

Heaps said, “The narrow legal issue here is the DEC gave [County Line] a permit and they don’t have a plan for where to safely take this leachate.”

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn