Fayette County PA Judge Orders Stop to Frack Waste Leachate into Monongahela River

by Duane Nichols on May 21, 2019

Belle Vernon wastewater treatment facility under I-70 Bridge on Monongahela River

Judge shuts down waste water pipe from Westmoreland landfill to Belle Vernon sewage plant

From an Article by Don Hopey & David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 17, 2019

Fayette County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Leskinen has ordered the Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill in Rostraver to stop piping toxic runoff contaminated by shale gas drilling and fracking waste chemicals to the Belle Vernon sewage treatment plant.

The judge granted a temporary injunction against the landfill Friday afternoon, based on a joint request from Fayette County District Attorney Richard Bower and Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone II.

The injunction, effective immediately, prohibits the landfill from sending contaminated waste water, known as “leachate,” to the sewage treatment plant, and also prohibits the sewage facility from discharging wastewater containing “contaminated chemicals” from the landfill into the Monongahela River.

A hearing on a permanent injunction is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. next Friday.

Neither the sewage treatment plant in Fayette County, nor the landfill in Westmoreland County, is in Washington County, but Mr. Vittone said many communities using the river for their public water supplies are.

The injunction was granted just two days after the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority decided to stop accepting the leachate from the landfill because it is damaging the biological sewage treatment process and causing the illegal discharge of poorly treated wastewater into the river.

Most of the leachate is produced by rainwater that falls on the landfill and seeps through the garbage and drilling and fracking waste material, where it picks up contaminants. The leachate is collected by underground drains and channeled into a pipe that runs approximately three miles to the treatment plant.

The landfill, owned by Uniontown-based Nobel Environmental Inc., was piping an average of 100,000 gallons of leachate a day to the sewage treatment plant, double the amount allowed in the contract, said Guy Kruppa, the sewage plant supervisor.

He said testing done by the authority shows the leachate contains high levels of ammonia, total suspended solids, and a host of chemicals and compounds consistent with shale gas drilling and fracking waste, including volatile organic compounds, magnesium, barium, phenols and oil and grease.

That concentrated cocktail of chemical compounds is killing the “bugs” that digest the sewage, Mr. Kruppa said, and inhibiting the sewage plant’s ability to treat the waste before it is discharged into the river.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which has permitting and enforcement duties for both the landfill and the sewage treatment plant, had urged the municipal authority to continue accepting the runoff, while the landfill builds a new pre-treatment facility. It even proposed an arrangement in which the landfill would pay any past and future fines levied against the sewage plant for illegal discharges into the river.

Mr. Kruppa said Wednesday that such a pay-to-pollute arrangement “isn’t ethically right,“ and Friday said the injunction was sought to “force the landfill to stop and shut off the pipe.”

Ro Rozier, a spokesperson for the landfill owner, responded to a request for comment Friday with an email saying, “Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill never received a copy of the contract termination notice from the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority. We never received a complaint or copy of the court order. We have only received this information through the media.

In good faith, WSL has decided to shut off the pipe even though we are not in violation of any water quality standards.

We do have approved alternatives for disposal of the waste water which will begin immediately. We will continue making large investments in onsite technology to improve leachate quality that will exceed government standards.”

The Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, which has also gone by the name Tervita Rostraver Township Sanitary Landfill, began accepting oil and gas “drill cuttings,” consisting of mud and rock drilling cuttings, in August 2010, according to the DEP.

In 2017 it accepted a total of 119,716 tons of shale gas drilling and fracking waste, or 40% of its total waste stream. That’s a sharp increase over the shale gas cuttings it took in during the previous three years, but still only half of the 80% allowed by Its DEP permit.

The landfill’s annual operations report for 2018, which will contain the amount of shale gas drilling and fracking waste it accepted, isn’t available until June 30, but the landfill said tonnage did not increase.

Because the region had wetter than usual weather last year, leachate runoff did increase.

Belle Vernon Mayor Gerald Jackson, who also sits on the municipal authority board which terminated its contract with the landfill Wednesday and gave it 14 days to shut off the leachate flow, said public officials in communities along the river support the injunction.

“It’s 100%. We’re all behind it,” Mr. Jackson said. “We [Belle Vernon] wanted to go shut off the pipeline from the landfill when we first found out about it but the DEP told us to hold off. We would have shut them off already.

“We’re all looking for quick action. No one wants to be blamed for any contaminants polluting the river.”


See Also: Injunction to stop fracking waste from getting into Monongahela River, WTAE News 4, May 20, 2019

A Fayette County judge signed a joint request by the district attorneys for Fayette and Washington County to stop leachate from getting to the Monogahela River.

According to District Attorneys Richard Bower and Gene Vittone, the Westmoreland sanitary landfill was pumping 100,000 to 300,000 gallons of contaminated waste water from fracking to the Belle Vernon sewage plant daily. The plant can only treat 50,000 gallons a day.

The contaminated waste water was ending up in the Monongahela and the communities downstream.

A spokesperson for the landfill says they “decided to shut off the pipe even though we are not in violation of any water quality standards. We do have approved alternatives for disposal of the waste water which will begin immediately.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Justin June 4, 2019 at 5:57 pm

They said if they shut off the pipe they have other alternatives to get rid of the contaminated water…any ideas what those alternatives would be?? How do they expect to safely move over 100,000 gallons a day in a healthy alternative? My guess is that they will simply let the water drain naturally which means it will still end up in the river. Anyone have clarity on this?

NOTE: Very good question! Duane Nichols for FrackCheckWV


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