LOCATION: Kreutz Creek, a tributary of Susquehanna River located in York County. Modern Landfill, a landfill located in York County owned and operated by Republic Services.
RIVERKEEPER ISSUE STATUS: active
ISSUE IN BRIEF: On January 11, 2023, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed a citizen suit against Republic Services of Pennsylvania in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The citizen suit cited Modern Landfill’s repeated violations of its water quality-based permit limits under the federal Clean Water Act and unpermitted discharges of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Modern Landfill discharged pollutants into Kreutz Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna, above their permit levels. This pollution dramatically degraded water quality and safety throughout the Creek and Susquehanna River.
PFAS are dangerous chemicals that are widely linked to serious public health and environmental impacts. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS do not break down over time. Instead, these dangerous chemicals accumulate in people, wildlife, and the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency sets the public adverse health effect thresholds for PFOS at 0.02 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOA at 0.004 ppt. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has adopted a state rule for drinking water that limits the presence of PFOA to 14 ppt and PFOS to 18 ppt.
Last year, the measured PFAS levels we collected from Kreutz Creek above and below Modern Landfill’s discharge pipe were the worst overall among all samples collected by Waterkeepers at over 100 sites across the country. The levels of PFOS and PFOA measured in the landfill’s discharges were 18,715 and 211,750 times higher, respectively, than the EPA guidance levels, and 21 and 60 times higher, respectively, than Pennsylvania’s proposed standards.
THE LATEST: By May 2023, Modern Landfill completed upgrades to its wastewater facility by introducing a reverse osmosis (RO) treatment system. Although it has corrected the permit violations, we are still seeing discharges of PFAs to Kreutz Creek.
We recently went through the process of discovery and still have unanswered questions. We are continuing our water monitoring of Kreutz Creek and are urging the PA Department of Environmental Protection to monitor this stream and if necessary, impose additional permits necessary for further treatment of leachate that leaves the site. We hope to settle our claims soon which will help restore the Kreutz Creek watershed.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
LSRA PRESS RELEASES
LEARN ABOUT: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. PFAS are widely used in common consumer products as coatings, on food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, ski and snowboard waxes, and more.
Certain types of firefighting foam—used by the U.S. military, local fire departments, and airports to fight oil and gasoline fires—also contain PFAS.
Due to their chemical and thermal stability, with water- and oil-repellency, PFAS do not
breakdown and can remain in the environment (water and soils) for decades. This has led to use of the term “forever chemicals.” The widespread use of PFAS in industrial processes and commercial products has resulted in the pervasive occurrence of PFAS in U.S water supplies.
PFAS enter the environment through four primary pathways:
Release from industrial facilities (through wastewater or air emissions) where they are made or used
Release during firefighting training or response to a petroleum-based fires
Sludge and effluent from wastewater treatment plants
Contaminated liquid from landfills (leachate) where PFAS containing industrial waste or consumer products are disposed
Similar to their environmental persistence, certain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS do not breakdown in the body and can accumulate for years. Continuous exposure and ingestion to PFAS in drinking water can increase levels in the body over time where adverse health effects can occur, including developmental effects in fetuses and infants, cancers and other diseases of the thyroid, liver and kidneys.
The EPA has recently updated Health Advisory Levels to 0.004 ppt (ng/L) for PFOA and 0.02 ppt (ng/L) for PFOS. Meaning that negative health effects may occur if individuals ingest in excess of these levels throughout their lifetimes. As these concentration values are near zero, it shows the urgent public health risk associated with PFAS contamination of drinking water supplies.
ISSUE HISTORY: Toxic Wastewater Dumped into Kreutz Creek
Leachate is a particularly odiferous “tea” produced when rainwater filters down through a landfill, picking up soluble materials from the decomposing wastes. If there are hazardous chemistries caused by the decomposition or native to the waste, including pesticides, solvents and toxic heavy metals, the resulting leachate can be extremely harmful to human and aquatic life and special treatment is necessary to make it harmless if it will be released into streams or rivers.
At Modern Landfill, leachate is combined with groundwater contaminated with hazardous waste pumped from under the 66-acre Superfund Site, treated and dumped into Kreutz Creek, which winds through much of Lower Windsor Township, empties into the Susquehanna River above water intakes for York Water System reservoirs, and then into the Chesapeake Bay.
Modern’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, PA 0046680 issued by PA DEP, requires measurement and recording of certain substances and properties. The limits on those that DEP chooses are allegedly that which is necessary to protect the creek and people living nearby, at least to the extent of the current very minimum regulations passed by PA and US legislatures.
The permit does not place limits on all of the substances or properties. For instance, lead, copper and tetrachloroethylene are measured but have no limits set in quantity or concentration, even though PA Title 25 Chapter 93 instream water quality standards control copper closely and lead and TCE are well known as health hazards. PA Code 25 92a.41(c) forbids discharging “…substances that produce an observable change in the color… of the receiving water.” Yet, no limits are placed on the color change in Modern’s discharge permit.
Leachate has been dumped into Kreutz Creek since at least 1976, when hazardous liquids were found seeping out of the then 66 acre landfill, and even with DER/DEP guidance, Modern Landfill still hasn’t figured out how to make it safe for the residents or the waterways. The treatment plant is deficient and as a result, high concentrations of pollutants like Nitrogen, Boron, Bacteria are being discharged into Kreutz Creek, along with others.
There is a Consent Order & Agreement between the PADEP and Republic Services to fix the deficiencies of their treatment plant and restore water quality which was signed by all parties on August 25, 2020. As of right now, Republic is behind schedule in upgrading their wastewater treatment plant by the original timeline of the consent decree due to delays in the issuance of a required permit they needed to begin construction. They are behind schedule by approximately one year so instead of finishing the upgrades of the treatment plant by April 2022 as originally required under the order, they now have until April-May 2023 to complete construction. Stipulated penalties are to be assessed for both violations of the timeline of the consent decree and also permit violations by discharging pollutants above their limits.
In early 2022, through surface water sampling at the outfall where the leachate is entering Kreutz Creek we have uncovered other pollutants such as lithium, uranium and PFAs (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the leachate. We are engaging with the PADEP and Republic to address these additional pollutants and the concerns we have on water quality. We will be monitoring Kreutz Creek into 2023 and are working collaboratively with Hellam Township, Hellam Borough and Lower Windsor Township to keep residents and the public informed of this issue.
For more information on the landfill and the proposed “expansion” please visit www.LWTinfo.com
ISSUE HISTORY: Modern Landfill Expansion
In 2019, most residents of Lower Windsor Township were expecting Modern Landfill to halt operations in a very few years when the current site could take no more trash. Republic Services, the operator of Modern, had however been quietly negotiating with township officers for their agreement to host a new landfill to cover several farms adjacent to the current permitted location.
When the regular Board of Supervisors meeting for December 12th, 2019 included an agenda item to vote on a host agreement for a new landfill (Republic called this an “expansion,”) residents packed the meeting room and unanimously objected to Republic’s proposal. The supervisors tabled the vote, the opposition from residents persisted and eventually a survey of all township residents was conducted. After 12 months of careful consideration, with a roll call vote in which each of the three supervisors explained his reasons, the township rejected further discussions with Republic and did not approve the expansion.
The decision by the supervisors is significant because they are the governing body of the township and only they can amend the township’s ordinance and zoning map that currently prevents a landfill from being sited in areas zoned “Agriculture,” which most of the parcels in the proposed “expansion” are. PA Department of Environmental Protection will not consider permitting a new landfill that does not comply with a municipality’s zoning ordinances.
Republic Services complains that they should be allowed their new landfill because they own the property. However, this is not how zoning ordinances work, as many property owners have found out the hard way. Moreover, the property consists of several dozens of parcels acquired over many years. For the parcels acquired between 1998 and 2015, Republic and Waste Management (the previous operating company) did so in full knowledge they had executed an agreement preventing them from ever “expanding” again. [Click to view – 1998 agreement w/ Windsor Twp.] For parcels acquired after 2003, they knew that industrial activities (e.g., landfill) were not permitted, as the land was zoned “Agriculture.” [Click to view – Zoning Map] Acquisition of the last “keystone” parcel of 113 acres that tied all of the others together didn’t occur until January 2, 2020, well after the supervisors had tabled executing a new Host Agreement in lieu of reconsidering its wisdom. Republic has no grounds for protest on the basis that they own the property. We will be following this carefully as attempts to overtake the board of supervisor positions to favor an expansion and zoning changes remains an immediate threat.
For more information on the landfill and the proposed “expansion” please visit www.LWTinfo.com
THIS ISSUE: IN THE NEWS
York Dispatch: Water sampling with local environmentalists