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DEP fines landfill near Pittsburgh for problems tied to fracking waste

Agreement includes plan to clean up liquid waste

  • Reid Frazier
The Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, which accepts solid fracking waste, is shown in September 2019. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

 Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, which accepts solid fracking waste, is shown in September 2019. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Pennsylvania Department of Envirommental Protection has fined a Westmoreland County landfill that had been passing pollution from oil and gas drilling waste into a local sewage treatment plant. 

The fine is part of a consent agreement with Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill to find a solution for the plant’s leachate, the liquid waste formed when rain and moisture percolates through the landfill. 

As part of the settlement, the landfill will pay a $24,000 fine and reduce the amount of waste it generates by closing up part of the landfill’s open area and installing an evaporator and other treatment equipment for the liquid waste. 

Ro Rozier, a spokeswoman for the landfill, said in an emailed statement the company was “pleased with the terms and conditions” of the agreement. Rozier said the company was “committed to investing substantial amounts of capital to purchase and install technology and equipment capable of treating and evaporating the leachate generated from the landfill on site. We are confident that our plan for onsite treatment and evaporation will resolve the landfill’s recent leachate disposal issues.”

In May, a Fayette County judge ordered the landfill to stop sending its liquid waste to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority’s sewage treatment plant, which had reported problems meeting water quality standards for its treated sewage. 

The sewage plant sought the injunction because the leachate it was receiving from the landfill was high in salts and radioactive materials found in drilling waste, which the landfill had been taking for several years. 

The landfill’s own waste reports showed the leachate it was sending the treatment plant had an “oil like” or “petroleum sheen.”

StateImpact Pennsylvania reported in September a loophole in state and federal waste disposal laws allowed the landfill to send its untreated leachate to the Belle Vernon sewage plant. DEP officials told Belle Vernon’s operators to continue accepting the leachate, and stipulated that the landfill would pay any fine incurred by the sewage plant for exceeding pollution standards for its discharge into the Monongahela River.

Tests showed the contaminants, including radium, were exiting the treatment plant and going into the river, a drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of people. The DEP has insisted no drinking water sources were put in danger by the discharge.

The agency says it wants the landfill to find a local disposal site for the waste to cut down on truck traffic from the landfill. For now, the waste will be sent to sewage plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

Todd Musser, director of wastewater operations for the Altoona Water Authority, one of the plants currently receiving the leachate, says his plant has had no problems meeting its water quality standards since it began taking the leachate about three or four months ago.

He said the plant receives 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of leachate per day, a small fraction of the 12.5 million gallons of sewage a day his plant can accept. The Belle Vernon plant treats just under 1 million gallons a day.

“With the volume we treat here at Altoona Water Authority — it’s a non-issue,” Musser said. 

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