LISA TORDO FROM Protect Our Water & Air (POWA) put the problem in concise terms. "The water from the Delaware River is a shared resource," she said. "So too is the air. Neither of these shared resources know township or state boundaries. They move where they want ... and so will ... pollution and contaminants."

And that explains why about 100 people – including several representatives of POWA – had gathered in the Bordentown Township Community Center in New Jersey, just south of Trenton, on May 25 to hear more about a hazardous waste-treatment facility planned across the Delaware River in Falls Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Elcon Recycling Services LLC proposes to accept hazardous liquid waste from a variety of industries such as electronics and semi-conductor, pharmaceutical, chemical, metals processing, etc. (from Elcon's website) The Community Liaison, Kelly Henry, on behalf of Elcon, referred questions about Elcon to the Elcon site.

A variety of concerns were raised: from water and air pollution; to the high-risk nature of the waste due to be treated; and the possibility of accidents either at the plant or spills from trucked as untreated waste is taken to the site or treated waste is taken to as-yet-unknown locations.

"The site has problems," said former New Jersey Gov. James Florio. "It's less than a mile from the Delaware River. Leaks happen. You can't stop accidents. You can't stop explosions.

"This is something we all have to be in together. Collaboration will maximize our strength," he said.

In this map of Falls Township, Pa., the Delaware River can be seen rounding what is almost an island, bounded on the left by Van Sciver Lake and Scotts Creek. The Elcon site is 22 acres in the upper third of that land mass. Its address is 100 Dean Sievers Place, Falls Township, Pa.

Additional information and contacts

The mayor of Bordentown Township, Mayor Jill Popko, hosted the meeting. She said that she would be putting relevant materials on the town's website.The Southeast Regional Office of the  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of the permitting process for the state as well as for the US Environmental Protection Agency. Their office is in Norristown, Pa., and the regional director is Cosmo Servidio. His number is 484-250-5942. The Waste Management program manager is James Wentzel. His number is 484-250-5960. Their website can be found here.

Former governor of New Jersey James Florio speaks at the Elcon information meeting held May 25 in Bordentown Township, N.J. PHOTO BY MEG McGUIRE

Florio's law firm has been retained by the Bordentown Township to fight Elcon's plan. He was involved in the previous fight against a waste incinerator planned for Bristol, PA. That plan was abandoned. 

Jeff Tittel, from the Sierra Club of New Jersey, pointed out that the plant would put people all around the Delaware at risk.

He sympathized with residents because this area is "ground zero in this battle for a clean energy future." Towns are battling projects like the New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link pipeline as well as the connecting Garden State Expansion compressor station proposed by Transco in Chesterfield, N.J.

Speakers returned again and again to the site's proximity to the Delaware River. Elcon states that there will be "no industrial wastewater discharged to the Delaware River."

"Then, why does it need to be so close to the river?" asked Fred Stine from the Delaware River Network.

The process planned for recycling industrial waste materials is called thermal oxidation which again, from the website, Elcon stresses is not incineration. The sludge is heated and the water is evaporated. Then the resulting crystals and salts would be trucked to a site or sites for further treatment/storage/burial.

Russell Zerbo from the Clean Air Council noted that no facility in Pennsylvania will take the resulting waste. Where will it go? How will it get there?

Tittel asked: "What if there's a fire? Do the local first responders know how to handle it? Do they have the equipment to handle it? There are 600 different chemicals that could be at this site. How much of each?"

Before he left Florio had one more point to make.

We have, he said, strong laws, but they can be interpreted by different administrators differently. He suggested that opponents of the Elcon site need to put pressure on administrators. Opponents can make the regulators aware of the regulations.

"They need to understand that there is a price to be paid if they don't apply the law."

Signs like these are popping up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as residents learn about the proposed hazardous waste facility. PHOTO BY MEG McGUIRE

Where the process is now

From information on Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection website, Elcon's Phase I application was initially denied. Then, after re-submission, the first stage was approved, which means Elcon can move ahead with completing the rest of the Phase I application.

Another of the permitting agencies, the Delaware River Basin Commission, had this comment about the process:

In January of 2015, Elcon Recycling Services, LLC (Elcon) submitted a letter to DRBC amending its earlier April 2014 application stating that the facility was to be re-designed as a zero-discharge facility and requested the approval to import greater than 50,000 gallons per day of wastewater into the basin.  DRBC is awaiting amended plans and specifications.  DRBC’s processing of the application cannot proceed until such time that Elcon submits an amendment to the application and the revised plans and specifications that demonstrate a zero discharge facility.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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