Lower Saucon Township waited more than a year for a report on whether the IESI Bethlehem landfill could be hurting the health of its residents.
But on Tuesday, when officials got the report from the state Department of Health, they were no closer to the answer. That's because the 35-page report said the overall results were inconclusive due to "limited monitoring information."
According to the findings, the air monitoring system used for the study was not sensitive enough to collect data needed to determine if chemicals in the air were harmful. In addition, the report said, the six monitoring sites were located upwind from the landfill, making it impossible to tell if chemicals detected were coming from the facility.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which performed the testing for the Health Department, monitored the air June 2-4 at two landfill locations, the Bethlehem Waste Water Treatment Plant, Steel City Mennonite Church, Hader Lane and Steel City Park. It also collected multiple water samples at two residential wells downhill from the landfill.
The report, which is posted on the township's website, listed three conclusions:
•Monitoring detected five chemicals — benzene, methylamine, methyl mercaptan, nitrogen dioxide and ozone — that could be pose health concerns at concentrations high enough and long enough. However, the instrument used to collect the samples was unable to make those distinctions.
• Monitoring did not detect three odor-causing chemicals typically associated with landfills — hydrogen sulfide, acetaldehyde and carbon disulfide —. However, the instrument's minimum detection limits were higher than odor threshold values for the chemicals.
• Two tested residential drinking water wells had safe chemical levels, although one had elevated levels of manganese and iron that could give it a bad taste and make it dangerous for iron-sensitive people with a rare genetic disease. The report said the testing of only two wells limited their conclusions about the landfill's groundwater impact.
The Department of Health did not provide comment Wednesday or Thursday.
DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said in an email that the DEP always assists the Department of Health with such landfill health reports and often uses the same chemical-measuring device that was used in Lower Saucon.
She said conditions were not ideal for placing monitoring devices downwind of the landfill. She also noted one of the primary concerns from residents was odors in the Steel City area, which is not downwind.
"The community is not predominately downwind of the landfill," she wrote in an email.
Township Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon, who lives in Steel City, said it was unfortunate the testing was conducted over the course of three days when odors weren't at their peak.
"I still have questions on what would the results have been if they would have done them on days when the odors were horrific like they'd been," she said.
She also said she was angry to learn the monitoring wasn't done downwind of the landfill.
Waste Connections Inc., the company that owns the landfill's owner, was happy with the outcome.
"Waste Connections is pleased that the findings of the PA DOH Report support the conclusion that the robust engineering measures employed at the IESI Bethlehem Landfill to collect and properly manage landfill gas are effective, and that the air and groundwater test results confirm that the facility is not causing an adverse health impact to the surrounding community," Don Hallock, a district general manager, said in a statement.
Lower Saucon Township officials requested a health impact study from the Department of Health in May 2015, after they learned about a similar project in two Lackawanna County municipalities where the Keystone Landfill is located.
The request also followed an April 2015 DEP review of landfill odors that resulted in on-site odor control violations being issued against the landfill when it was discovered that methane levels were more than 10,000 parts per million in certain areas of the landfill.
About Bethlehem Landfill
Bethlehem Landfill is part of Waste Connections, Inc., an integrated solid waste services company that provides waste collection, transfer, disposal and recycling services in mostly exclusive and secondary markets in the United States and Canada. Through its R360 Environmental Solutions subsidiary, the company is also a leading provider of non-hazardous oilfield waste treatment, recovery and disposal services in several of the most active natural resource producing areas in the United States, including the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford Basins.
Waste Connections, Inc. serves more than six million residential, commercial, industrial, and exploration and production customers from a network of operations in 39 states, theDistrict of Columbia and six provinces. The company also provides intermodal services for the movement of cargo and solid waste containers in the Pacific Northwest.
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At Bethlehem Landfill, we believe in building a better tomorrow. In doing our part to meet that goal, we provide funds each year to Lower Saucon Township to help pay for vital public programs and services. In addition, our business creates local jobs and supports various organizations throughout the community.