Landfill discharge into Kreutz Creek violates DEP standards, remedy expected in 2023

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

Wastewater discharged from Modern Landfill into the Kreutz Creek has exceeded chemical element amounts set by the Department of Environmental Protection since 2017; however, after a multi-year process, officials expect to remedy the problem by mid-2023.  

Since 1988, the Lower Windsor Township landfill, owned by Republic Services, has discharged treated wastewater into Kreutz Creek, according to Tim O'Donnell, general manager for Modern Landfill. The practice is not uncommon and is fully legal if the wastewater, also called leachate, meets certain criteria. The criterion is in part set by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit under the Clean Water Act.

An NPDES permit is “a license for a facility to discharge a specified amount of a pollutant into a receiving water under certain conditions,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

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NPDES permits are reissued every five years, sometimes with updated or modified criteria. In 2017, the permit was updated to require Modern Landfill to monitor the levels of boron in the wastewater and report back to the DEP. Boron is a naturally occurring mineral often found in ceramics, glass and household cleaners, according to an EPA health advisory document.

Republic knew the landfill was out of compliance in 2017 because it did not have a system that monitored boron levels, O’Donnell said. Before setting a boron limit for Modern Landfill, the DEP had Republic Services monitor and sample the temperature and boron level of the discharge sites and report it to the department, O’Donnell said.

Getting the upgrades to monitor boron levels and to treat boron was a multi-year process, he said. On Aug. 25, 2020, the DEP issued Modern Landfill a consent order agreement, which lists the landfill’s violations and steps to remedy them.

In February 2020, the daily maximum of boron allowed by the NPDES permit was 23 pounds in a single day, and the monthly maximum allowed was an average of 17.2 pounds per day, according to the agreement.

The Modern Landfill site near the Kreutz Creek in Hallam on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

The actual boron in Modern Landfill wastewater reached 26.9 pounds per day and a monthly average of 23.4 pounds per day.

To address the boron and nitrogen, Republic is installing a reverse osmosis filtration system, O’Donnell said. The upgrades will cost Republic $23 million and are “state of the art,” he said.

The chemical load of Kreutz Creek concerned Lower Windsor Township locals and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the ecological health of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay. The riverkeepers have been sampling several spots in the creek since 2020, measuring for levels of boron, nitrates and per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), which are long-lasting manmade chemicals.

In 2022, the riverkeepers took samples every month except for one, according to Ted Evgeniadis, the head of the riverkeepers. They used kits purchased from Citizen Science and Cyclopure to test for metals and PFAS, respectively. Evgeniadis and Cindy Pizziketti, a member of the riverkeepers association, do the sampling.

Evgeniadis said he is careful not to let the water touch his skin while taking samples. "I'm using waders so I don't get in contact with the water. I'm doubling up on gloves because I don't feel safe just using one [pair]. I mean that's how bad it is," he said.

Although Kreutz Creek is not a source of drinking water, Evgeniadis warns residents of Lower Windsor and Hellam townships against letting children or animals get in the creek, where they could potentially ingest the water.

A message on the Lower Windsor Township website, posted on July 27, 2022, stated that in May 2020 “water samples collected by LWT residents and analyzed by an accredited water testing laboratory reportedly indicate the presence of toxic substances in Kreutz Creek,” referring to the May 12, 2022, Board of Supervisors meeting where Evgeniadis brought the issue to the township.

At the meeting he requested the township put up signs noting “the danger of pollution levels” in the creek, the meeting minutes said. Evgeniadis said the township did post signs.

Lower Windsor Township officials had no comment on the matter, Township Manager Sande Cunningham said.

The Modern Landfill site near the Kreutz Creek in Hallam on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Another issue Evgeniadis noted was the color of the creek. At points where Modern Landfill wastewater runs in, the water is dark brown and orange.

There is a section of Kreutz Creek near the landfill that is not affected by wastewater, which Evgeniadis uses as a “control” sample location. The water there is clear unless disturbed and sediment is kicked up.

O’Donnell acknowledged that landfill wastewater was changing the color of the creek and said that the change is from the presence of organic matter, like leaves and grass. A Republic Services fact sheet about the creek’s color said it was caused by the decomposition of natural matter in the water.

The creek’s color is not something that the DEP has set a limit on in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination permit, O’Donnell said. However, the reverse osmosis upgrade will treat the wastewater for color, and Republic Services “anticipates the color issue will subside as a part of the new technology,” he said.

Upgrades and installation are expected to be finished in the second quarter of 2023, O'Donnell said.

Modern Landfill's parent company name was incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story. The correct name of the company that owns the landfill is Republic Services.

Modern Landfill in Lower Windsor Township is seen on Dec. 19, 2019.