Treatment plant disputes charges in lawsuit
Environmental regulators and a Warren County wastewater treatment plant are working toward a legal agreement to address harmful flows from the plant entering the Allegheny River.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Gary Clark said the agency is working with Waste Treatment Corp. on a consent decree that will bring the plant into compliance with state laws after DEP initiated a lawsuit against the company in Commonwealth Court last month.
Both DEP and Waste Treatment Corp. responded to questions the day after the environmental organization Clean Water Action filed a federal lawsuit against the company claiming the plant is discharging improperly treated oil and gas wastewater into the river.
Michael Arnold, Waste Treatment’s vice president of operations, said the plant has had several significant upgrades in recent years and the company intends to make more improvements as part of the consent decree with DEP.
He emphasized that the plant stopped discharging wastewater from Marcellus Shale natural gas development in 2011. The plant processes other forms of oil and gas wastewater, but it filters shale waste fluids and sends them to an injection well for disposal.
An attorney for the company wrote to Clean Water Action last month to say that the flow from Waste Treatment Corp. has at times exceeded permitted limits for metals because its current permit is a poor fit for the kind of waste the plant treats – a problem acknowledged by regulators, he said, and one that should be addressed with a new permit.
Clean Water Action’s portrayal of Waste Treatment Corp. “as environmentally irresponsible is false,” the lawyer wrote. (His full letter is posted below. An attorney for Clean Water Action wrote back to ask the company to clarify several points but the environmental organization said it did not receive a response to its email.)
DEP scientists studying the treatment plant’s impact on aquatic life in October 2012 found high levels of salts and metals in the water downstream of the discharge pipe and radioactive material and petroleum oils in the streambed sediment. Last month, DEP sent the company a notice of violation based on that study, saying the plant “failed to control discharge to protect aquatic life in the Allegheny River.”
The consent decree between the company and DEP will be published for public comment before it is submitted to the court for approval, the DEP spokesman said.
Update: This post has been updated to include Clean Water Action’s email to Waste Treatment Corp.