Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that Tervita, the Canadian company that previously owned the Westmoreland landfill, no longer does.
An agreement signed on Wednesday will prevent a Rostraver Township landfill that accepts drill cuttings and other fracking waste from piping contaminated water to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority for the next year.
The consent order formally extends the terms of an injunction a judge granted in May that barred the Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill from sending leachate for treatment to the authority – whose Fayette County plant discharges treated water into the Monongahela River – for three months.
District attorneys Gene Vittone and Richard Bower of Washington and Fayette counties, respectively, sought that court order, which they said was necessary to prevent water contaminated with chemicals, including carcinogens, from entering drinking water.
Kit Pettit, the landfill’s attorney, said his client plans to take additional measures to address officials’ concerns while the new agreement is in effect.
“It will take up to 12 months to obtain the necessary permits, equipment and technology, and to construct the pre-treatment facility on site to ensure that its leachate is of the parameters and characteristics for proper disposal,” Pettit said. “They are working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with respect to this matter, and there’s ongoing and routine communication to ensure that the landfill remains compliant.”
Pettit added that the landfill is “currently collecting and transporting the leachate to other disposal facilities for treatment.”
The consent order filed on Wednesday was signed by Pettit; John Smith, the authority’s attorney; Bower; attorney Rebecca Franz – who leads the environmental crimes division of the state attorney general’s office – who did so on Vittone’s behalf; and Fayette County Common Pleas Judge Steve Leskinen. Vittone said he’d asked Franz’s department to get involved in the litigation.
The pact bars the landfill from “sending, or passing through, any water, waste, wastewater, discharge, contaminants, effluent, pollutants, leachate, sludge, biological processes, or any other substances” to the authority without the authority’s written permission.
The language is similar to the phrasing of a temporary injunction that Leskinen granted May 17 in response to a petition by the DAs.
Two days earlier, the municipal authority board voted on advice from legal counsel to terminate a contract with the landfill, effective June 1. Officials had determined that the landfill was sending them 100,000 to 300,000 gallons of contaminated water a day – two to six times the amount the authority was allowed to take – according to Bower’s and Vittone’s injunction request.
“An engineering firm hired by the authority determined that the excess volume of contaminated water flowing into the municipal authority for treatment rendered treatment of all waste water ineffective and consequently the authority was acting simply as a pass-through for the contaminated water on its way to the Monngahela River,” a water source for many towns in the region, the DAs added.
Along with normal waste, the landfill accepts “oil and gas waste that contains oil, diesel fuel, phenols and other substances” that seep into rainwater at the site that was sent for treatment, according to their filing.
The runoff from the landfill was identified as the culprit behind levels of certain contaminants that violated the standards of the authority’s permit. Officials first noted the problems in spring 2018.
Requests for help from DEP yielded “no solution,” authority Superintendent Guy Kruppa said in a sworn affidavit.
Pettit said the landfill “has committed to spending substantial sums of money” on its project to add the additional equipment and pretreatment facility, but declined to provide the dollar figure without his client’s consent.
“Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill remains committed to being a responsible and environmentally prudent operator in the solid-waste industry,” he added.