Whitehall-Coplay Press

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Lack of action concerns officials

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 by Kathy Lauer-Williams Special to The Press in Local News

Whitehall mayor, state rep. attend hearing on contaminated fill at quarry

Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners were frustrated at the July 9 board meeting, following a report from Mayor Michael Harakal Jr., who said he “doesn’t know what to believe” after attending a hearing earlier in the day on local concerns about the state’s regulations for fill.

Township officials had expressed outrage at last month’s board meeting after learning a quarry owned by Coplay Aggregates contains high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and the township wasn’t informed for 84 days.

Now, a month later, township officials say they still have no answers why the contaminated fill was allowed to be dumped in the township and why they were not notified sooner that there was a violation.

Officials only found out about the contaminated fill in June, when, after a meeting between Coplay Aggregates and Harakal, the township executive secretary received an email from the federal Environmental Protection Agency reporting a violation. The notice was not mentioned during the meeting, even though the company was notified of its noncompliance March 13 after samples taken from the quarry contained high levels of PCBs.

Federal limits of PCB levels should not exceed 2 parts per million. However, samples from Coplay Aggregates measured 6.75 parts per million.

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 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.

The hearing, held by the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee, was also attended by officials from Bangor and Upper Mount Bethel Township, who have similar concerns about contaminated fill being dumped in a quarry in East Bangor.

Township officials said the fill is being brought in from New York and New Jersey because Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection standards for pollutants are less stringent than in other states.

“Pennsylvania has become the dumping ground of other states due to our lax definition of enforcement,” Harakal said.

State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd, who spoke at the board meeting, also attended the hearing, which she recorded live on her Facebook page.

“We don’t want to be another Flint, Michigan,” she said. “If it’s not good enough for New York and New Jersey, it’s not good enough for us. We don’t want their toxic garbage.”

However, Harakal said many of the industry officials who spoke at the hearing were opposed to the current regulations.

“The meeting was interesting,” he said. “I noticed a lot of inconsistencies.”

Harakal said there is a history between Coplay Aggregates and the township that “has unfortunately led us to not really believe what we hear from the owners.”

McNeill said she had asked the owners to give herself, Harakal and Rep. Zachary Mako, R-183rd, in whose district the company is located, a tour of the quarry.

“I’m pretty thickheaded and stubborn,” McNeill said. “I won’t stop until we get a tour.”

She said Mako is working on legislation that would require timely notice of violations and would make DEP regulations as strong as EPA regulations.

Harakal said he talked to officials from Bangor and Upper Mount Bethel Township, and the three communities had a “mutual desire to get together and look at pooling resources down the road in hiring an environmental attorney.”

He said he was concerned because the township solicitor has been told by DEP staff not to call them anymore because the township is engaged in action against the DEP.

Harakal also read the prepared statement he gave at the hearing to the board.

“Coplay Aggregates’ ability to maintain a safe facility free of carcinogens is something we’ve lost confidence in,” Harakal said. “We’ve lost confidence in the DEP’s ability to control the problem and the fill that’s being placed here. Our citizens are scared that their health and safety have been compromised.

“The arrogance of Coplay Aggregates has created an aura of fear, distrust and concern that the DEP has failed in its mission to control the location of dangerous chemicals in our community,” he added. “Our legacy to our children is the contamination of the ground and water.”

The next commissioners meeting is 7 p.m. Aug. 13.