Whitehall-Coplay Press

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Board reacts to quarry’s federal violation

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Local News

PCB levels in Coplay Aggregates site sample are reportedly triple the limit

Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners reacted angrily at its meeting June 11 to reports that a quarry, owned by Coplay Aggregates, contains high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and the township wasn’t informed for nearly three months.

Whitehall Township officials only found out about the contaminated fill June 5 when, after a meeting between Coplay Aggregates officials and Mayor Michael Harakal Jr., the township executive secretary received an email from the federal Environmental Protection Agency indicating a violation, Commissioner Joseph Marx Jr. said.

Marx said the notice was not mentioned during the meeting between the company officials and Harakal, even though Coplay Aggregates was reportedly notified of its noncompliance March 13 after samples taken from the quarry contained high levels of PCBs.

“All we know is federal limits of PCB levels should not exceed 2 parts per million,” Marx said. “But the samples from Coplay Aggregates measured 6.75 parts per million.

“Now we need to know the what, where, when and how,” Marx added.

According to the EPA, PCBs belong to a family of man-made organic chemicals that were manufactured and used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications from 1929 until being banned in 1979. PCBs do not readily break down once in the environment and have been found in water in areas far from where they were released. PCBs have been shown to cause a variety of adverse health effects and are potentially carcinogenic.

Commissioners were upset the township hadn’t been informed about the violation sooner and that Coplay Aggregates was allowed to continue operating.

“Why are they allowed to violate the federal limits by more than three times the PCBs?” board Secretary Thomas Slonaker asked. “They should have been shut down as soon as they got that letter.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Warren said the fill came from New York and asked how it was allowed to cross state lines and be dumped in the township. He said it was classified as beneficial fill and questioned how that could happen since the Department of Environmental Protection is supposed to be monitoring it.

Marx said 55,000 cubic yards of fill were taken out of the site, but the township had no idea how much was actually dumped there.

“I blame the DEP on not being able to regulate this stuff,” Commissioner Jeffrey Dutt said.

The board felt frustrated by the lack of information from the DEP and EPA.

“I am very disgusted with how the state and federal government handled this,” board Vice President Philip Ginder said. “This is one of the worst carcinogens. We were told the DEP doesn’t have to talk to us. How can the state let this go? You can have all the laws you want, but it doesn’t do any good if you can’t get federal and state enforcement.”

Slonaker said he had even considered going to the site and physically blocking the dumping.

“A little civil disobedience wouldn’t be a bad thing,” agreed board President Dennis Hower.

Hower said the township has had issues with Coplay Aggregates since 2015, and courts have not yet ruled on the township’s appeal of a DEP permit allowing Coplay Aggregates to dump fill even though the case was heard in September 2017.

Michael Dee, district office chief of staff to state Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd, proposed a meeting between the DEP, township officials and McNeill and Rep. Zach Mako, R-183rd, in whose district the company is located, to discuss what can be done. Dee said he lives in the township and also has concerns about the situation.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect our citizens, our air and our water,” Marx said.

Commissioners went into an executive session following the meeting to discuss the matter.