Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper sues York County landfill over water contamination

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper is suing Modern Landfill in order to hasten efforts to address water contamination first documented in 2017.

Wastewater discharged from Modern Landfill into Kreutz Creek exceeded various pollutant thresholds enforced by the state Department of Environmental Protection since at least 2017, leading to a 2020 consent decree outlining mandatory steps to remedy the problem.

Those steps, including the construction of a new wastewater treatment system, were delayed in recent years — in part due to the COVID pandemic — with the approval of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"The first thing is obviously to correct the violations and the second thing is for them to pay penalties for those violations," said Ted Evgeniadis, who leads the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, which routinely takes water samples — among conducting other conservation activities — in the region.

Water sampling with local environmentalists Ted Evgeniadis, the lower Susquehanna riverkeeper from Mt. Wolf, and Cindy Pizziketti, from Springettsbury, along the Kruetz Creek in Hallam on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Tim O'Donnell, the landfill's general manager, said the company is reviewing the complaint but cannot comment on pending litigation.

"Modern Landfill remains compliant with the consent agreement it signed with the [DEP], and continues to work with the DEP on the issues being raised by the Riverkeeper," O'Donnell said.

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DEP spokesperson John Repetz said the regulatory agency does not comment on pending litigation. State inspectors found elevated levels of boron and osmotic pressure near the landfill, resulting in the 2020 consent decree.

Water tests in the area around the landfill also showed elevated levels of so-called "forever chemicals." The levels of PFOS and PFOA measured in the landfill’s discharges are 18,715 and 211,750 times higher, respectively, than the EPA guidance levels, according to Riverkeeper data.

PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals widely used in consumer products that are resistant to heat, water and oil and do not break down easily, according to the DEP.

While there is no enforceable limit of PFAS levels in wastewater discharge in federal law yet, Evgeniadis noted that PFAS levels in the creek exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's PFAS health advisory limits for drinking water.

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Evgeniadis said his organization hopes to work collaboratively with Republic Services, the company that operates the landfill, in order to more quickly address the contamination issues.

If the violations are corrected, he said, the lawsuit — which the environmental group threatened in November —wouldn't go any further.

Republic Services should have about 60 days to answer the complaint, Evgeniadis said.

Although the violations of DEP standards have persisted, Republic Services has been taking steps to address the issues. As of December, O'Donnell said $23 million worth of wastewater treatment upgrades were 60% completed.

In addition to several new wastewater storage and treatment tanks, Republic is installing two reverse osmosis filters, which provide one of the highest levels of water filtration. A reverse osmosis filter can also remove PFAS from wastewater; however, the system cannot destroy the chemicals, only separate them out.

The full lawsuit can be found on the Riverkeeper website here: https://e63b45.a2cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2023.01.11-ECF-1-Complaint.pdf.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.