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Environmental group takes Pennsylvania wastewater plant to court over discharge into river

July 24, 2013
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<photocredit>Sreedhar Yedlapati/Hemera/Thinkstock</photocredit>

An environmental group has decided to take legal action against Waste Treatment Corporation (WTC) for alleged illegal discharge of oil and gas drilling wastewater into the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.

Clean Water Action, an eco-group with a focus on clean water and pollution reduction, issued a press release last week stating its intent to file suit. The key reasons that led to that decision were the group's findings that over the past two and a half years WTC had violated its water discharge permit "nearly 400 times", as well as its claim that the company had no state permit allowing it to discharge fracking wastewater.

Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania state director for Clean Water Action, said that results from the state's own study from last year indicated that WTC was polluting the Allegheny River but state authorities have done nothing to resolve the problem. That is why Clean Water Action will waste no more time waiting for the state or the federal Environmental Protection Agency to act and is taking matters into its own hands. Arnowitt explained that the case was filed in an attempt to prevent companies from further discharging pollutants and gas drilling wastewater into state rivers.

Last year the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) carried out a study revealing that excessive levels of salts, metals and radioactive compounds were detected in the water in the vicinity of WTC's discharge pipe in the Allegheny River. Downstream of the facility, levels of chloride, bromide, lithium, strontium, radium-226 and radium-228 were measured to be more than 100 times higher than the levels of the same chemicals upstream of the plant. The department also found that pollutants were building up in the river bed sediment where radioactivity and oily deposits were identified. According to the report, WTC's plant spilled 200,000 gallons of wastewater every day into the Allegheny River, depositing 125,000 pounds of salt into the water on a daily basis.

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Despite these findings the Pennsylvania DEP did nothing to stop this practice, the Clean Water Action group claimed. Its own investigation found that on multiple occasions WTC discharged amounts of arsenic, titanium, selenium high above what they were authorized to and the discharge from the plant was too acidic or alkaline at times. The group's filing also accused WTC of using a permit from 2003, which did not allow the company to discharge oil and gas wastewater.

According to Michael Arnold, vice president of operations for WTC, the company is operating according to its permits and has not broken the law. When asked to comment on the possible law suit, Arnold noted that the company would take the allegations seriously but would "take each step as it comes." He added that being part of the wastewater industry turned the company into a target for different environmental groups and the current situation was not new to WTC, which has been in the business for 25 years.

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