Prove your humanity

The EPA is seeking a court order to enter an unclaimed parcel of land on a Superfund site in northwestern Pennsylvania that once housed a ceramics factory. 

EPA filed the request in federal court in Pittsburgh in February to gain access to the 18-acre parcel to clean up chemicals and heavy metals. 

The parcel sits in part of the former Jackson Ceramix Superfund site, about two miles west of Dubois, Pa. The company manufactured painted china there from 1917 to 1985. It was added to the list of Superfund sites in 2005. 

But the EPA said in court documents that it could not determine who owned the triangular sliver of land inside the 233-acre Superfund site. Records showed it was once owned by the now-defunct Reynoldsville Rail. 

The EPA found some records showing CONSOL Energy may have acquired the land when it bought a successor to Reynoldsville Rail, which dissolved in 1934.

But when the EPA contacted CONSOL, the company told the agency “it had no information pertaining to the Property and had no knowledge related to Reynoldsville Rail.” 

Even if it did own the land, the company said that ownership “would have been transferred” to a separate holding company, CNX Land LLC, a subsidiary of the natural gas company CNX, in 2017.

CNX Land LLC also denied any ownership of the site, telling the agency it “had no information or documentation regarding ownership of the Property” and that “there was no information available that would allow them to deny or confirm ownership of the Property.”

After attempting to determine who owned the 18-acre sliver, the agency said it was “unable to identify any persons capable of asserting control over the Property and granting [it] access.”

The EPA, citing ongoing litigation, declined comment, as did the Department of Justice, which filed the legal action on behalf of the U.S.

CONSOL spokesperson Jen Nolfi said in an email that neither the company “nor any of its subsidiaries are owners of the at-issue property, as documented in publicly available records.” 

Brian Aiello, a spokesman for CNX, the parent company of CNX Land LLC, said in an email: “[W]e responded to EPA in December 2023 that we reviewed the information and have no record of ownership of this site.”

In court documents, the agency said it needs access to the site to continue cleanup operations there. 

The original ceramics factory discharged lead-contaminated wastewater into an unlined drainage ditch and a lagoon on the site. The lagoon drained contaminated sludge and wastewater into a wetland and floodplain next to Sandy Lick Creek. The company also stockpiled and buried broken and unfinished china debris on the site.

The property is now contaminated with lead, zinc, arsenic, manganese, volatile organic compounds, trichloroethene (TCE), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). EPA says there is contamination in the soil, subsurface soil, surface water, and groundwater on the site.

EPA wants to gain access so that it can remove chemical contaminants with a process called thermal remediation. It will also excavate contaminated soil, dredge sediments, restore wetlands, and monitor and sample the site.