The meeting occurred as the Israel-based company Elcon prepares to submit the second part of its application to build a new commercial liquid hazardous waste treatment plant on 22 acres of a 33-acre site in Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township.
This is part of the 12- to 18-month process for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to decide if the plant will meet all federal and state requirements. The company will submit various applications through September, after which the PADEP will hold a series of public meetings before its decision.
Last week’s meeting, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Langhorne was hosted by Elcon and featured two hours of public comment after a presentation by the company.
Of the approximately 350 people there, almost all of the 55 or so who signed up to speak were against the plan. A few dressed in hazmat suits. Others bore signs and pins protesting the facility.
Dr. Rengarajan Ramesh, a technical adviser for the company, said the plant’s thermal oxidation process would be an environmentally-sound alternative to incineration or deep well injection, where wastewater is diluted and stored deep in the ground.
The process will cleanse the treated water of pollutants, and nothing would be dumped in the Delaware River. The company has not chosen a landfill yet for its waste.
Ramesh said the site was chosen for its proximity to major roadways and because the majority of this waste is produced on the East Coast but currently shipped to Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio or Texas.
“[The plant] will eliminate long-distance shipping,” said Ramesh. “We need to treat it sustainably, not dump it in a hole in the ground.”
While many people understood the need, they strongly objected to its location. It’s a mile from the Delaware River, the drinking water source for millions, and even closer to Biles Creek, which leads directly into the river. It’s also within the 500-year flood plain, in which critical facilities like hospitals and police stations are not built due to risk of flooding.
Fred Stine of the Delaware Riverkeepers pointed out that the area is hydrologically connected to the creek and river, meaning any spills or flooding can affect drinking water even without the plant being closer to those waterways.
“Accidents happen,” Stine said, citing a laundry list of similar industrial accidents over the past five years, including the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He, among others, also listed some of the nearly 600 chemicals, including mercury, cadmium and lead, that would be transported to and treated at the plant.
“It sounds safe, but it’s not. We’re not saying this needs to go to the desert, but it shouldn’t be in the 500-year flood plain,” said Stine.
Marjorie Fitzpatrick, project manager for IES Engineering, the firm responsible for designing the facility and putting together the application, said terrain grading would raise the facility above the floodplain for the river. But, she did not address the creek.
In a phone interview after the meeting, Elcon community liaison Kelly Henry said the ten unused acres on the company’s plot are a buffer from nearby wetlands.
Ramesh also noted that, in response to public concern, Elcon changed its truck route to avoid Pennsylvania Avenue in Morrisville and are open to more alternations. Fitzpatrick said trucks would be equipped with GPS monitoring. Drivers would be given a warning if they veered from the route once and be fired on a second offense.
But people are still concerned that the route is still too close to a private elementary school and makes use of the heavily-trafficked Route 13. They also aren’t convinced that any on-board spill containment tools will be enough to prevent catastrophe.
The company admitted that they can’t guarantee that there will never be an accident, but will put in place every conceivable safety measure. Still, that wasn’t enough for most in attendance.
“It’s going to happen somewhere, sometime,” said a Falls resident. “How will you prepare drinking water for 8 million people?”
The location also irked many who feel that Lower Bucks County is already glutted with industrial sites, evidenced by the area having the third worst air quality in the state.
“It seems like Lower Bucks is sort of a dumping site,” said one resident, to applause.
Virtually the only residents appearing in support of the plant were the two dozen or so people associated with local trade unions. The project forecasts 150 to 200 construction jobs and 120 permanent jobs after that.
“We support local work and more jobs for the community. The more they build, the more they clean up,” said one member of the local 98 Electricians Union, but did not know how many jobs were projected.
Many were convinced the risk was negligible at best. “My level of concern is like when my wife takes the kids to the supermarket,” said union electrician Sean Gleave of Trevose. “There’s too much money and too many regulations. You can’t just go pollute the air and water. It’s impossible.”