Two environmental groups have opened a new chapter in a long-running battle over a former PPG Industries waste site in Pennsylvania, accusing the paint and coatings giant of illegally discharging corrosive pollutants into the Allegheny River.
PennEnvironment / P. Wray
|Attorney Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment discusses her organization’s new suit against PPG Industries.|
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday (March 20) in U.S. District Court, the Sierra Club and PennEnvironment allege that PPG is violating state and federal clean water laws by allowing the “unpermitted and untreated discharge of pollutants” from the old waste site into the river.
‘Not in Compliance’
The case involves a 150-acre site in Western Pennsylvania site that PPG owned from 1899 to 1972. From 1950 to 1970, PPG used the site to dispose of glass polishing waste slurry from its plant in Ford City, PA. The now-reclaimed site includes three covered slurry lagoons spread over 77 acres and a plumbing-fixture landfill.
The lagoons contained about 20 million cubic feet of waste as of 1991, says the suit. The groups say PPG is in violation of a 2009 state environmental order to monitor and collect seepage from the lagoons.
A state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in January that PPG had not obeyed the 2009 order. “They are not in compliance,” spokesman John Poister told the newspaper.
(The suit was filed prematurely in January, then withdrawn, to allow the parties 60 days’ notice.)
The PPG waste site has been a contentious issue for more than 40 years. The new lawsuit offers this chronology:
March 8, 1971: PPG and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (now PA DEP) entered into an agreement regarding waste discharges at the site. PPG was to conduct a site study and submit a long-term remediation plan by Aug. 31, 1971.
Aug. 1, 1972 (11 months after the due date): PPG submitted a remediation plan that included continued waste discharges.
Oct. 16, 1972: PPG sold the Waste Site to Ford City for one dollar. (Ford City is named in the new suit, but only as a formality.)
March 1973: DEP rejected PPG’s proposed remediation plan and told PPG to revise it to provide for the treatment of the discharge. Two months later, PPG withdrew its proposed remediation plan.
Since April 1973, the suit says, PPG has needed a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to allow discharges into the river, but it has not applied for one.
1992: PA DEP advises PPG in a letter that “a permit was required under the Clean Streams Laws for its continuing discharges.” PPG has not obtained such a permit, the suit says.
On March 9, 2009, PA DEP issued an Administrative Order, charging PPG with violations of the Clean Streams Law and calling the discharges “a significant threat to public health and the environment.”
That order said that precipitation that fell on the site became contaminated with arsenic, lead and other highly corrosive “hazardous substances.” It also said that leachate discharges from the slurry lagoons ended up in the Allegheny River.
Ford City Public Library
|The 150-acre site holds glass finishing wastes from PPG’s Works 5 plant in Ford City, PA.|
The order required PPG to monitor, sample and report on various seeps and streams for discharges.
In June 2009, PPG submitted a treatment plan that did not include a schedule for applying for the NPDES permits, the suit says. The suit says that none of PPG’s reports to date indicate that it has applied, or plans to apply, for the permit.
Discharge, Reporting Violations
According to the environmental groups, PPG’s monthly reports from February 2010 through December 2011 show 162 discharge violations and 33 reporting violations related to the site, which the company attributes to a “temporary system maintenance issue.”
The plaintiffs disagree.
“PPG has violated and continues to violate” the Clean Water Act “by discharging pollutants, including arsenic, chromium, lead, manganese, copper, zinc, mercury, antimony, barium, beryllium, iron, vanadium, aluminum, total dissolved solids or salts, and semi-volatile organic compounds, as well as discharging waste containing high levels of pH, into the Allegheny River and Glade Run without a permit issued pursuant to the Clean Water Act authorizing such discharges,” the complaint says
The suit seeks:
• A declaration that PPG has violated state and federal laws as well as the state’s administrative order;
• An order to PPG to stop unpermitted discharges;
• An order forcing PPG to clean up affected parts of the waterways; and
• Lawyers’ fees and unspecified penalties.
In a detailed statement issued Thursday (March 22), PPG called the lawsuit’s allegations “without merit” and said it had provided the environmental groups with “extensive information about the work PPG has performed to address the conditions at the property” in question.
PPG said it had also met with PA DEP to “develop a final plan for the property.”
“PPG believes that the interim control measures that the company installed almost two years ago, as well as the data that have been generated since that time, will enable PPG to develop a final plan that will ensure that the conditions at the property are addressed appropriately,” the statement says.
PPG says it has “continued to work” with Ford City and PA DEP “to address the environmental conditions” at the site. According to PPG:
• In 1984, DEP concluded that there was “No Action Needed (no hazard)” at the site, based on its own sampling and assessment.
• From 1991 through 1995, PPG and DEP “conducted multiple, extensive environmental assessments” that found “no material adverse risk to human health or the environment.”
• In 2010, PPG installed a DEP-approved interim collection and treatment system to address drainage caused by water infiltrating into the disposal area. The system complies with discharge limits set by DEP in July 2009.
• On Nov. 9, 2011, DEP approved PPG’s treatment plan and schedule for developing “a final plan to address the infiltration and drainage” from the property.
“PPG’s former operations in and around Ford City played a very significant role in the company’s history, and PPG will continue to work to fulfill its environmental responsibilities there,” the statement says.