YORK COUNTY, Pa. — A non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the Susquehanna River watershed and the Chesapeake Bay has filed a citizen lawsuit against a York County landfill and its parent company, accusing it of repeated violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
Republic Services LLC and the Modern Landfill are named as defendants in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania by the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association.
The lawsuit claims Modern Landfill has repeatedly violated the terms of its water quality-based permit and of making unpermitted discharges of toxic per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, into Kreutz Creek -- a tributary of the Susquehanna.
This has dramatically degraded water quality and safety throughout the Creek and Susquehanna River, the lawsuit claims.
“We believe clean water access and fishable, swimmable waters should be available to everyone who relies on the Susquehanna River for their lives and livelihoods,” said Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “However, Modern Landfill has taken that right from the people in York County. No corporation’s profits are ever worth a community losing access to clean water.”
Tim O'Donnell, general manager of Modern Landfill, issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit.
“We are reviewing the Riverkeeper’s complaint and cannot comment on pending litigation. However, Modern Landfill remains compliant with the consent agreement it signed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and continues to work with the DEP on the issues being raised by the Riverkeeper. Construction on Modern’s new on-site advanced wastewater treatment plant is more than two-thirds of the way complete and on track for opening this year. This $23 million infrastructure project is part of Modern’s continuing commitment to our neighbors. We manage our operations safely and responsibly, in full compliance with regulatory standards.”
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 Riverkeeper Association says.
As a result, the organization claims, PFAS have been found in surface water, air, soil, food, and many commercial materials.
"Scientific studies increasingly link these toxic chemicals to serious health conditions such as cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions," the organization said.
According to the Riverkeeper Association, the United States Environmental Protection Agency sets the public adverse health effect thresholds for PFOS at 0.02 ppt and PFOA at 0.004 ppt. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has recommended adopting a state rule that would limit the presence of PFOA to 14 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOS to 18 ppt. The rule is awaiting the state attorney general’s signature.
It would require municipalities and water providers to regularly monitor water for PFAS, and treat the water if it exceeds those standards.
However, in June 2022, PFOS and PFOA in Kreutz Creek were measured at 374.3 ppt and 847 ppt, respectively, and 25 other PFAS compounds were also measured at exceptionally high levels. Those high levels of PFOS and PFOA put local residents in York County at higher risk for adverse health effects.
The measured PFAS levels from Kreutz Creek above and below Modern Landfill’s discharge pipe are the worst overall among all samples collected by Waterkeepers at over 100 sites across the country, the association claims. The levels of PFOS and PFOA measured in the landfill’s discharges are 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.
“Modern Landfill continues to violate the Clean Water Act on a consistent basis. The landfill’s discharges threaten the health and safety of local residents and the public who want to recreate and fish around Kreutz Creek. The owners of the landfill must be held accountable for violating the Clean Water Act and putting the public at risk,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director, Public Justice.
Lower Susquehanna Riverkeepers said it continues to sample Kreutz Creek on a routine basis and is assessing levels of PFAS in individual residents’ wells throughout Lower Windsor Township.