Prove your humanity

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held two public hearings this week about a plan by a Westmoreland County landfill to build a gas-fired leachate evaporator. 

When rainwater percolates through waste at a landfill, it can create a contaminated liquid known as leachate. DEP officials explained at the virtual public hearing on Thursday that leachate from the Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill in Rostraver Township is currently contained in tanks, and then trucked to a treatment plant. The company has proposed an on-site evaporator that would instead heat the leachate to evaporate the liquid through a stack into the air.

DEP’s proposed plan approval would allow for the temporary operation of the evaporator for 180 days to process 45,000 gallons of leachate per day. 

Environmentalists and nearby residents testified about their concerns, pointing out that the landfill accepts solid fracking waste that can contain radioactive materials, and that it has been fined tens of thousands of dollars by the state for numerous environmental violations.

“Research has shown that this waste is known to contain radioactive materials, which in turn could produce leachate that is also radioactive,” testified Mackenzie White with the Environmental Health Project. Her group is concerned about the health impacts of evaporating this waste into the air.

“These particles, when ingested or inhaled, have been linked to causing various types of cancer, such as lymphomas, leukemia, and bone cancer,” White said. “A fact EHP (Environmental Health Project) finds especially concerning [is that] no health impact assessment was conducted to understand what this could mean for the surrounding community.”

DEP’s draft plan includes requirements for testing for radioactive material and other pollutants in the leachate and in the air emissions from the evaporator. 

The applicant used their own current leachate data to calculate the expected discharge concentration [of radioactive material] from the evaporator,” said Dwight Shearer, director of DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection, at the hearing.

His office compared those concentrations with air limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the NRC, “and has concluded that the calculated / expected discharge concentration is well below the limits established by the NRC, and will not add to the ambient background radiation levels,” he said.

DEP is accepting comments until September 19.

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