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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Another Party Dragged Into River Pollution Case

PITTSBURGH (CN) - The target of a Pennsylvania pollution action can file its own claims against a manufacturer that later took over the site, a federal judge ruled.

PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club fired the first shot in 2012, complaining about toxic slurries polluting the Allegheny River in Armstrong County, Pa.

PPG Industries, once short for Pittsburgh Plate Glass, had a manufacturing facility one side of the river in Ford City from 1949 until 1970, and allegedly used a site on the other side of the river in North Buffalo and Cadogan townships to dispose of wase.

The site is bordered by Route 128 to the north, the Allegheny River to the south, a tributary called Glade Run to the west and a so-called "drainage ditch" to the east.

In addition to PPG, the environmentalists' lawsuit takes aim at Ford City and at the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad.

PPG complained that a landfill for which it is being blamed also received waste from a company called Eljer or American Standard Brands from 1988 to 1998.

U.S. Magistrate Robert Mitchell agreed last week that PPG can file a third-party complaint against Eljer.

Ford City now owns the landfill, which closed in 1998 under a plan approved by the state.

The environmentalist plaintiffs noted that the state would not have granted closure certification if it found that the area "presented any further threat to the environment."

Judge Mitchell meanwhile emphasized a portion of the state's letter to Eljer in 2000 that says the "acceptance of your closure report does not constitute a waiver or release of liability for any past, present, or future contamination at the site."

"Thus, contrary to plaintiffs' assertions, has made no determination as to whether Eljer deposited waste in the Eljer Landfill Area that would subject it to liability under any environmental law," Mitchell wrote.

The larger site that contains the Eljer landfill area is alleged to present "imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and/or the environment due to the alleged level of contaminants including arsenic, chromium, lead, manganese, copper, zinc, mercury, antimony, barium, beryllium, iron, vanadium, aluminum, total dissolved solids or salts, and semivolatile organic compounds."

PPG applauded the court's ruling, saying it "intends to move forward to promptly file and serve a third party complaint against Eljer."

"Independent of PPG, Eljer utilized an area of the site to dispose of materials from Eljer's Ford City manufacturing operations," a representative for the company said when reached for comment.

Back when it filed the suit, PennEnvironment noted that "PPG sold the site to Ford City for $1."

"Over the past 40 years, PPG has submitted studies, reports, and proposals to [Department of Environmental Protection], and there have been many communications between PPG and DEP, but there has been no effort to control the discharge of contaminants from the site," the group said in a statement.

The lawsuit accuses PPG of having discharged pollutants and waste containing high levels of pH. An attempt at mediation failed this past March, and there was a failed attempt at an injunction as well

PPG allegedly created three slurry lagoons in an area formerly used as sandstone quarry. Collectively, the lagoons and surrounding area cover approximately 77 acres on the western part of the property. The complaint says PPG also disposed of solid waste in the "solid waste disposal area."

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