Township fights proposed waste facility
For the last year and a half, Bordentown Township Mayor Jill Popko has been fighting off a threat looming across the Delaware River.
A hazardous waste treatment facility could be granted permission to operate in Falls Township, Pennsylvania. Elcon Recycling Center, an Israeli-based company, is seeking permits from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to build and operate a 22-acre facility in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex.
According to Elcon’s website, the facility would treat hazardous liquid waste from commercial chemical and pharmaceutical industries and turn it into usable clean water.
The DEP approved the first phase of Elcon’s application in 2015, and Elcon originally projected to submit Phase B of their plans in March. However, the company still has yet to submit its plans. Although there is no official deadline for submission, Popko believes a growing opposition from residents and local environmental groups has slowed down the permit process.
“I think the stronger opposition grows, the more likely we are to succeed in having them move this facility somewhere else,” Popko said.
While Elcon Recycling Center has gotten letters of support from the Chemistry Council of New Jersey and the Boilermakers Local 13 Philadelphia Union, environmentalists have expressed concerns over the proposed facility, ranging from its location to how the hazardous liquid waste will be transported.
Bordentown passed a resolution in 2014 opposing the facility, and the New Jersey Sierra Club, Friends for the Abbott Marshlands, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and other municipalities along the Delaware River have publicly stated their disapproval. These groups have been closely following Elcon’s plans since its first proposal to the DEP and found red flags in early on.
“How close it was to the Delaware River is what got the Delaware Riverkeeper Network concerned because it looked awfully close,” Fred Stine, citizen action coordinator of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said. “We took out the maps, we looked at Google, and we could see there were wetlands on the site.”
The Keystone Industrial Port Complex is located between Van Sciver Lake and the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. In New Jersey, it is across the river from Crosswicks Creek.
“Tides along the Delaware River and Crosswicks Creek can move waters back and forth [about] 12 miles, making this unique wetland system particularly vulnerable to any contaminated water that might be released by Elcon,” Leck wrote, adding that freshwater tides make the tidal wetlands among the most productive in the world. “As far as the amount of plant martial produced each year, it rivals a tropical rainforest.” The wetlands also help prevent flooding, Leck added.
Environmentalists interviewed said that the surrounding wildlife in the area is crucial for a healthy ecosystem—and drinking water. Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tiddel said the river provides water for roughly six million people in this region of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If there is an accident or spill at the facility, tides could push the chemicals into Trenton’s water-supply intake.
“This waste product has to be treated somehow, has to be treated responsibly, but why would you bring it to the water source that millions of people depend on? The location just doesn’t make sense,” Stine said.
According to information from Elcon Recycling, the facility will be developed outside the designated wetlands area and flood of record. The entire site owned by Elcon is 33 acres, which includes the wetlands. The facility will take up 22 acres—including its buildings, roads and parking area—and is designed to not disturb the wildlife and wetlands.
Elcon also claims that there will be no discharge of industrial waste into the Delaware River, and they will implement spill prevention and other protective measures to keep the river safe from any unforeseen circumstances that could be potentially caused by humor error, according to their website.
In an earlier proposal, Elcon discussed using rail lines to transport the hazardous liquid waste to and from their facility. Residents and officials expressed concerns about trains cutting through the wetlands, and the company has since announced it will only transport the waste by truck.
Elcon contracted a private hauling company in order to assert contractual authority over the route, according to its website.
Stein argues, however, that a truck accident would be just as devastating to the environment, potentially placing the drinking water for millions of people at risk.
Approximately 20 trucks a day will bring the hazardous liquid waste into the facility, according Elcon’s website. They applied to receive 596 different types of waste, including mercury, lead and cadmium. Elcon officials said in light of community concerns, they will not accept fracking waste or radioactive waste streams in their facility.
According to their website, Elcon will remove all solids, salt and volatile organic compounds from hazardous liquid waste streams through thermal oxidation. Rather than use an incinerator, Elcon plans to heat the chemicals and evaporate the moisture. The salts and solids will be captured and disposed to a landfill.
Despite claims from Elcon that its process is the most eco-friendly way to treat hazardous liquid waste, local environmentalists remain concerned.
“The way I explain the process to people, it’s sort of like leaving water on your stove and you’re boiling it down and at the end you have a reside at the bottom—that’s what they’re doing with toxic chemicals,” Tiddel said. “They’re not getting rid of them, they’re just boiling them down to get rid of the moisture.”
Tiddel said he’s worried about the chemicals that will be released into the air during the thermal oxidation process, calling it a “witch’s brew” of chemicals.
“The predominant wind direction is southeasterly, meaning the wind largely blows from Pennsylvania over New Jersey,” Stine said. “Whatever comes out of Elcon’s thermal burner is going to blow over and into the Delaware River and over and onto New Jersey.”
Elcon’s website states that the emissions will meet the Federal Ambient Air Quality Standards, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s ambient air quality guidelines.
But Popko disagrees.
“The fact is that there will be pollutants being sent into the atmosphere directly at us,” she said. “Some of those pollutants are highly carcinogenic. There’s mercury, and benzene, and these are highly toxic and carcinogenic. It’s a highly populated area on both sides of the river. This is just the wrong place.”
Once Elcon submits the next phase of its permit, the DEP will have three months to determine if it’s complete. If they determine it’s complete, the DEP will then have 10 months to review the permit application and make a decision.
Bordentown has retained a law firm to fight the hazardous waste facility, the mayor said, and the township have asked other municipalities to join the fight. At future environmental commission meetings, they’ll ask people to sign petitions and write letters to state legislators opposing the facility.
“Now is the time for people power to start building, and organizing, and coalescing and then 10 months down the road hopefully they’ll be long gone,” Popko said.
Stein said the Delaware Riverkeeper Network plans to attend farmers markets and other locations throughout the summer in an effort to educate people about the facility. He also encouraged residents to write to their own state elected officials and Pennsylvania’s legislators and let them know theyr’e oppose the hazardous waste treatment facility.
Roughly three years ago, an unrelated hazardous waste treatment facility was proposed in Bristol, Pennsylvania. However, facing strong public and political opposition, the company withdrew its application.
“It seems other communities have been able to help them to move on, and hopefully we can do that as well. They can find another place, but here is not the place,” Popko said.