I would like to bring to the attention of your readers a study, completed in 2017 and published last Fall by the USGS and Vermont Fish and Wildlife, that has received little if any notice.
I received a copy of the study from a Canadian friend, not through the State or local media.
I have asked local fishermen, members of the MWA, folks who I thought would be in the know and have been amazed by the lack of awareness of such an important local environmental finding.
When you open the link provided here, you may, like me, be disturbed by the photos of Brown Bullhead sampled from two sites in the south end of Lake Memphremagog between 2014-17.
30 percent of samples, a statistically very high percentage according to the researchers, have raised black cancerous lesions, not only on the skin but also in the tissues and organs of affected fish.
One can’t help wonder if there may be a connection to the recent report that tests of effluent from Newport and Montpelier Waste Water Treatment Facilities- the only two in the state that accept landfill leachate- was many times over the limit for PFAS chemicals set by the state for drinking water.
These WWTFs had the highest PFAS levels of any WWTFs in the state.
Even though Newport WWTF no longer takes leachate, thanks to the District 7 Act 250 temporary ban effective October 23, 2019, until 2024, the “forever” PFAS chemicals (and other toxins present in the millions of gallons of leachate already dumped untreated into the lake) build up and remain in the ecosystem of Memphremagog.
Representatives of the Agency of Natural Resources and Vermont Fish and Wildlife, when asked, have downplayed concerns that contaminants in the lake may be causally related to the incidence of cancerous melanomas in this fish population.
A spokesperson from DEC has said these Bullhead cancers, first identified in 2012, may be caused by a railroad petroleum spill.
Has there been further sampling of water, sediment, and the fish tissue, as recommended in the conclusion of the USGS study, to determine what the underlying cause may be?
Is analysis being done for PFAS or other leachate chemicals as well as petroleum-related chemicals?
Also, the study says sampling was done in Hospital Cove and the South Bay-what are the exact sites where sampling was done and why were they chosen?
Were there petroleum spills in both places?
And are more sites designated for future study?
Will there be sampling of other species- other bottom-feeders as well as species further up the food chain?
One last question, why were the control samples of Brown Bullheads, taken from Ticklenaked Pond in Ryegate, free of any signs of melanomas?
Doesn’t this suggest that there may be something in our lake causing the cancers in these fish?
While I welcome efforts by the legislature and the State in the last year to prioritize Clean Water and to target PFAS pollution concerns, time is of the essence in order to protect our Vermont waters from further contamination.
The best way for the Agency of Natural Resources to gain public confidence is to be fully transparent and accountable- about the original fish study, the efforts to get to the root of the problem, and the development of plans to fix whatever needs fixing.
The citizens have a right to know if their lake is safe for fish and wildlife and for humans as well.
Are the Brown Bullheads the “canaries in the coal mine”, early warning signs of danger ahead?
Or are they some fluke of nature?
I urge your readers to open the link and read the study for themselves.
Then decide if it doesn’t make good sense to permanently ban the dumping of landfill leachate into Newport’s WWTF and Lake Memphremagog.
Why in heaven’s name continue to pour toxic leachate into waters that may well already be an unhealthy environment for at least one species, hopefully not more than one.
East Charleston VT
Note: We must not ignore the fact that landfill leachate, including what used to be disposed of in Newport, continues to be disposed of via Montpelier and Plattsburgh WWTFs and sent untreated into Lake Champlain by the thousands of gallons daily, millions annually. Champlain, like Memphremagog, is a drinking water source for thousands as well as an ecosystem for our fish and wildlife. An alternative to this environmentally harmful practice- employing advanced technology- though expensive, must be planned for and implemented sooner than later. We cannot afford to wait.