Plan for waste treatment plant in Falls meets resistance

James Boyle, the Wire

More than 32 million tons of waste water is produced by the U.S. manufacturing industry each year, and an Israeli company wants to build a treatment facility in Falls Township to process 20,000 of those tons annually.

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James Boyle / Wire Photo – Dr. Rengarajan Ramesh, a representative of Elcon Recycling Services, presented an hour-long slideshow and then took questions last week regarding the company’s plans to build a waste treatment plant in Falls Township.

Representatives for Elcon Recycling Services say the company will dispose of the liquids using an eco-friendly, sustainable process that will not negatively affect the surrounding environment, but not everyone who would share that environment was impressed.

Following a two-hour presentation and question-and-answer period last week led by a consultant for Elcon, Morrisville and Falls township residents clearly believed that the best way to guarantee the safety of their neighborhoods and the sanctity of the Delaware River is to not build the liquid wastewater treatment facility in their community.

“They can’t guarantee 100-percent safety,” said Morrisville resident Clay Aberts. “There’s always the possibility of human error or materials error. If something leaks, it can contaminate the river and damage the surrounding area.”

Aberts was one of a handful of vocal critics who joined approximately 30 attendees of a town hall-style presentation of the facility plan organized by the Morrisville Neighborhood Town Watch and held at the Italian American Club on Harrison Street.

Dr. Rengarajan Ramesh opened the meeting with a 60-minute slide show presentation of the proposed site, a revised plan that factored in previous concerns about the facility.

“The plant will be a closed loop system,” said Ramesh. “It will not discharge distilled water into the Delaware River. It will cost Elcon more to do it this way, the plan will have zero liquid discharge.”

The treatment site’s capacity can handle up to 17 truckloads per day, operating on a 24-hour/seven-days-a-week schedule. After on-site lab techs test the water to match the manifests, the contents will be treated using a process called thermal oxidation.

“The water will be transformed into steam and safely vented through our industrial filters,” said Ramesh. “There will be no odor, and the air quality will exceed the best available technology requirements. The leftover residue will eventually be recycled for other applications following six to eight months of testing by the DEP.”

Several visitors to last week’s meeting were sympathetic to the need for a facility that can dispose of toxic chemicals, taking heed to Ramesh’s claim that the three most popular methods – deep well injection, incineration and activated carbon capture – are not nearly as sustainable as Elcon’s process.

They could not get past the simple question of why the plant had to be built in such a densely populated area that depends heavily on the Delaware River for recreation and commerce.

“Of all the gin joints in the world, why did you have to walk into Falls Township?” asked Newtown resident and local activist Steve Cickay.

According to Ramesh, the proximity to major pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers, including Dow and Rohm & Haas, made the Keystone Industrial Port Complex an ideal location, with many local companies lending support to the plan. Once the approval process is completed, Elcon would take approximately six to eight months to build the facility, initially creating 55 jobs with a maximum of about 120 employees.

This is Elcon’s second attempt to work through the rigid approvals from the federal, state and local governments. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Elcon resubmitted its Phase 1 Exclusionary Siting Application in May after the original application was denied.

“[Elcon] failed to demonstrate conformance with the flood hazard criteria in their initial submission,” a press release from the DEP says. “However, they were permitted to resubmit the Phase 1 application with additional information pertaining to the mentioned criteria.”

Ramesh said that the facility will generate more than $33 million over 20 years in fees that will be added to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act fund, money used to clean and rehabilitate environmental damage from chemical spills and accidents.

The plant will use state-of-the-art sensors and monitors that can automatically respond to possible dangers, and the company will work with local emergency responders to formulate action plans.

Elcon’s reassurances appeared to fall short of changing the minds of the residents determined to keep the facility out of the region. The struggle is reminiscent of the pushback in January 2014 against a proposed hazardous waste incinerator in Bristol Township. Communities along the Delaware in Pennsylvania and New Jersey rallied hard to keep Route 13 Bristol Partners from building a 50,000-square-foot industrial waste burner.

The company put its application on hold in February 2014 as it gathers more information about the site.

“The Delaware River is a precious resource where people can do boating, canoeing and fishing,” said Betty Tatham, vice president for the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters. “It’s a beautiful place that has a rich history and culture. We have an obligation to our kids to keep it protected.”

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