PITTSBURGH– After nearly a decade in federal court, PennEnvironment and Sierra Club announced Monday that they had settled their federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit against PPG Industries, Inc.. The suit centered on decades of illegal pollution at the company’s Ford City waste site, which abuts the Allegheny River approximately 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Armstrong County.
As part of the settlement, PPG will be required to have a pollution permit and treat its polluted water for the first time ever, and contribute $250,000 to a Pennsylvania non-profit water research center. PPG’s liability for Clean Water Act civil penalties will be decided by the court.
"Today's announcement is a huge victory for the Allegheny River and all the people who love this iconic western Pennsylvania river," noted PennEnvironment's Executive Director David Masur. "As one of the 'Three Rivers' that have become synonymous with Pittsburgh, today's action will help ensure a healthier Allegheny River for our children and future generations to enjoy."
PPG’s 150-acre Ford City waste site, which is located just south of Kittanning, includes 77 acres of waste slurry lagoons. The lagoons currently sit like a terrace above the Allegheny River, elevated nearly 130 feet at its highest point. The site also contains an area in which PPG disposed of solid waste from its manufacturing operations.
From approximately 1950 to 1970, PPG pumped waste from its glass manufacturing plant located across the river through a pipe to the slurry lagoons. As the lagoons were filled, the dike walls were raised to accommodate the placement of additional slurry waste.
PPG’s waste from the Ford City site has a very high pH and contains high levels of heavy metals, particularly arsenic, lead, antimony, iron, aluminum and chromium. The federal court has found that PPG’s high-pH discharge from the site may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.
"This outcome is the culmination of years of tenacious work by citizens and attorneys who would not let harmful pollution go unchallenged," said Tom Au, Conservation Chair of Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. "We now have a mechanism to monitor and treat the alkaline discharges from the old landfill."
Highlights of the settlement include:
PPG’s discharges at the site will be subject to federal Clean Water Act pollution permits for the first time since the law was put into effect in the early 1970s;
Requiring PPG to install and maintain in perpetuity a system to collect and treat all of the contaminated water discharging from the lagoons;
Creating financial assurances that guarantee Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) has the funds to continue running treatment operations at the site even if PPG dissolves or is no longer financially able to maintain safeguards;
Covering areas of solid waste to remediate the threat from metals contamination at these locations;
A $250,000 contribution to Stroud Water Research Center for wetland and mollusk research.
This settlement resolves the majority of this long-running case. PPG’s liability for and the amount of civil penalties under the Clean Water Act remain to be litigated.
“This case has been hard fought by all litigants for almost a decade. The court issued many decisions that favored the positions of PennEnvironment and Sierra Club and that will help future citizen suits like this one,’ noted Carolyn Smith Pravlik, lead counsel fromTerris, Pravlik & Millian. “It is wonderful that the parties were able to resolve a significant part of the case after such a pitched battle.”
The two citizen-based environmental non-profit groups are represented by the attorneys at Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP. Founded over 50 years ago, Terris, Pravlik & Millian is one of the nation’s first public interest law firms, with a longstanding history of successful environmental litigation.
PennEnvironment is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.