Billerica, Mass. Will Pay $250,000 for Clean Water Act Violations
The Town of Billerica, Mass. will pay a $250,000 penalty and undertake additional projects, under the terms of a settlement for alleged violations of federal and state clean water laws and government-issued permits. The settlement was announced jointly by United States Attorney Michael Sullivan; Robert W. Varney, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England Office; Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General; and Arleen O’Donnell, Acting Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).
A civil Complaint and Consent Decree were simultaneously filed today in U.S. District Court in Boston. The Commonwealth also moved to intervene and filed its own Complaint. According to the EPA Complaint, the Town discharged pollutants directly into the Concord River and into a tributary of the Concord River from its Water Treatment Plant without a permit. The discharges contributed to degradation of water quality and impairment of the river habitat in the vicinity of the Water Treatment Plant.
The Town violated its discharge permit for its Waste Water Treatment Facility because it exceeded permitted effluent limits for phosphorus, fecal coliform bacteria, pH, and ammonia nitrogen. The Town also failed to submit discharge monitoring reports, failed to comply with monitoring requirements, and failed to submit infiltration and inflow reporting. Billerica’s discharges of phosphorus contribute to the excessive aquatic plant growth that characterizes the river system. These conditions are the result of an overabundance of nutrients, primarily phosphorus, being discharged to the river.
On top of the civil penalty of $250,000 contained in the consent decree filed today, the Town will implement two supplemental environmental projects at a cost of $50,000. Under the first project, the Town will test for lead in school drinking water and take measures to address elevated lead levels, if they are detected. Exposure to elevated levels of lead can result in adverse health effects, including developmental delays, especially in infants and young children. The second project calls for the Town to evaluate, under MassDEP’s direction, whether a disinfectant byproduct (called “N-nitrosodimethylamine” or “NDMA”) is present in the water supply and factors effecting its formation. NDMA is a probable carcinogen that is not currently regulated; more research is underway to determine if it is forming in drinking water supplies and, if so, at what levels. If NDMA is detected in Billerica’s water supply, the Town will take measures as required by MassDEP to address its presence.
“Thanks to close coordination and strong efforts by state and federal agencies, the Town of Billerica is now operating its Water Treatment Plant and Waste Water Treatment Facility in a manner that will better protect public health and the aquatic ecosystem of the Concord River,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office.
“This settlement is the result of much hard work by various state and federal agencies, as well as officials from the Town of Billerica. Not only will the Town pay a penalty for its past violations of the Clean Water Act, it will also take affirmative measures to maintain compliance with the applicable state and federal Clean Water Acts. The Town should be commended for agreeing, as part of the settlement, to both test for lead in its school drinking water as well as NDMA in its overall drinking water supply,” concluded U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan.
“Our office will continue working with the appropriate officials to maintain the integrity of the water resources in Billerica,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “By carrying out special projects to address lead in school drinking water and the possible presence of a contaminant in the Town’s water supply, Billerica is taking important steps to protect the public, particularly the health of our children.”
“Municipalities need to ensure that their treatment plants are operating properly to avoid pollution of the rivers and streams so important to the health of our communities,” MassDEP Acting Commissioner O’Donnell said. “Under this agreement, Billerica will ensure that the plant is adequately treating wastewater and the town will go further by proactively testing for lead in their schools’ drinking water, and will study NDMA in order to help us better understand whether NDMA needs to be regulated.”
Also as part of the settlement, the Town will conduct multi-media compliance audits of its Waste Water Treatment Facility and Department of Public Works facility and disclose and correct any violations. The Town will also assess and address problems with its wastewater collection system in order to prevent unpermitted discharges of waste water.
Billerica, a community of approximately 40,000 residents, is located in northeastern Massachusetts. Though predominantly residential, Billerica is home to several high technology firms.
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