Renewed Dumping at Former Celotex Site
This week we received disturbing news from concerned Caketown residents that dumping had resumed at the former Celotex site in Sunbury. Sure enough, on Thursday 29th May there was clear evidence in the form of several hundred tons of fill which had been dumped but not yet leveled, to add to the thousands of tons dumped previously. By Saturday, this fill had been leveled off, but a further 100 tons or so had been dumped and was waiting to be similarly treated.
If Moran Industries, or whichever of their subsidiaries is now operating this site, has nothing to hide, why is this stuff always arriving so clandestinely in the dead of night? Apparently they are now using the Front Street access gate, which means that local residents are not so aware of what is going on there.
If this fill is clean fill as they have always claimed, why is it even being dumped here? What would be the point, commercially or otherwise? However, if it is contaminated, toxic, potentially carcinogenic or radioactive, then where better to put it than on a site with no inspection, no access restrictions, no reporting requirements, no radiation detectors and a city code administration under the control of a compliant mayor with no apparent motivation to intervene?
City – Do They Know? Do They Care?
Are the City even aware that dumping has resumed and, if so, has anyone bothered to find out what is being dumped and where it is coming from, and to carry out a full evaluation of any potential hazards resulting from such activities? Have permits been requested, and have any been issued? It is interesting that the Municipal Authority see a need to install radiation detectors at their waste transfer station in order to check our trash, but nobody thinks it is necessary to do the same thing at the Celotex site.
Coincidentally we learn of the disposal of 2,000 tons of contaminated material from a Washington County fracking facility over the course of the last few days. Our contacts have informed us that this material is being taken to sites as far away as West Virginia, Ohio and New York. This is only one of many sites contaminated by fracking activity throughout our state, and there appears to be little or no notification required by the DEP or the EPA as to the final destination of such waste.
Under a loophole contained in the misnamed Clean Railroads Act, Moran Industries claimed that Norfolk Southern Railroad Company were actually the site operators, and were exempt from regulations in place to protect the environment, because oil and gas company wastes being transferred to rail are not covered. This act preempted local residents and the city administration from taking action in the event of spills, contamination, road traffic accidents involving waste tankers or trucks, river and air pollution, adverse effects on public health from airborne carcinogens, etc. However, that particular shield has gone. Waste is not being transferred to the railroad – it is being dumped on the site and left there.
Serious Health Threat posed by Toxic Dust
Evidence of contamination at Celotex is contained in a 2011 DEP report, highlighting contamination by arsenic, drill cuttings and various carcinogenic VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). The levels of arsenic were high enough for them to recommend avoidance of human contact. Despite this fact, last summer the excessive numbers of trucks traversing the site raised such huge clouds of this toxic dust that some nights the city appeared to be on fire. The dust caused breathing problems for local residents, and contaminated their homes, both inside and out. More seriously, it carried with it the potential for long term health risks and irreversible health deterioration culminating in premature death.
At the City meeting on 10th February 2014, Drake Saxton, a thorn in Persing’s side over the activities taking place at the site, offered to meet with Councilman Reichner who is in charge of the Code Office, to explain to him the numerous issues and code violations surrounding operations there, and to hopefully work with him in finding a resolution.
Mayor Persing agreed with this plan, and instructed Reichner to go ahead and arrange a date for the meeting. However, despite several reminders to Reichner over the course of the intervening 19 weeks, no meeting has been arranged with little apparent prospect of this happening any time soon.
Mr. Saxton told us that he had intended to use the opportunity to explain to City and other officials the extent of the many code violations taking place at the site, and to help them reach some sort of conclusion on action necessary to safeguard the citizens, but failing that he would have to look for other legal remedies.
Bartello – Why He Was Removed!
When Joe Bartello was in charge of the city code office, his was a lone voice opposed to the activity at Celotex. In his efforts to please John Moran, Mayor Persing conspired with others within his administration to remove Bartello from the Code Office, to blacken his reputation, to pass on confidential information from his computer, and squandered well in excess of $10,000 of city taxpayer money to defend little more than his ego, by taking a lawsuit to federal court – a lawsuit which could have been settled in Sunbury for the princely sum of $300!
The entire onslaught appears to have been triggered by Bartello’s attempt to close down operations at the Celotex site until such time as it became compliant to city code requirements. Concerned by frequent news reports of fracking drill cuttings being turned away from landfill sites in PA because of their high levels of long-term radioactivity, he wrote:
“Moran Industries has hauled thousands of tons of fill onto the site. I have asked repeatedly for the origin and composition of the material being used for fill at the site. Each truckload of fill should have been tested for radiation. As you know, our landfills test each load of waste prior to acceptance. Should we not be just as careful with what will remain permanently in our city?”
“It is my sincere wish to be able to assure the residents of Sunbury honestly what is coming into the city. There is a great deal of confusion as to what is happening on the Celotex site because of a lack of appropriate information.”
At a stroke, Persing removed power from the only member of the City Council willing to stand up to Moran, and to fight to protect the interests and safety of the people of Sunbury. Why should the elected Mayor of Sunbury care so little about the health and welfare of our citizens and future of our City and apparently go out of his way at every opportunity to satisfy the demands made upon him by the wealthy owners of the Celotex site? On this we can only leave our readers to speculate!
Fracking Waste and the Celotex Site
Back in 2010 when John Moran purchased the former Knight Celotex site for a “warehouse and distribution center” few could have imagined the long term threat that this move posed to the health and prosperity of our city.
In January 2011, soon after Minuteman began shipping waste through Sunbury, our illustrious mayor made his infamous declaration that “The City is Safe“. This shallow reassurance was not based on any research or anything more than off the cuff remarks, made to Persing by Jeff Stroehmann, operations manager of Moran Industries. We were informed of the non-toxicity of the waste which was nothing more than “rock chips”, that leaks from loaded waste trucks traversing Julia Street were caused by “melting snow” and that the site operators were in “full compliance with all regulations”.
Persing added, in customary gobbledygook, that “The City of Sunbury does not have the experience or overall ability within our code office to address all the development concerns, but we do have the resources to guarantee that nothing harmful to our community will happen while this industry develops.” He also claimed that the project was for the “betterment of Sunbury” – moving forward again!
Which mayor, truly concerned about the welfare of his citizens, and following only a short private meeting, would so readily accept at face value this flimsy explanation, especially given that these activities were being carried out within yards of a local residential neighborhood?
We have heard a number of horror stories from Caketown residents – from the dripping of foul-smelling liquids from trucks traversing their streets to the time when, following resident complaints about a string of loaded and leaking rail cars, these same cars were pushed from the site and left sitting on the bridge over the Susquehanna, to drip their toxic contents into the river for an entire weekend!
The gas fracking industry invariably looks for poor neighborhoods within which to locate its operations. This way they reckon the people will be easier to subdue and overcome as they are unable to generate an effective resistance to the plans. In Sunbury they had the opportunity to acquire a large site with railroad access and in a city with a 5 term mayor who proved to be a gullible and most compliant subject, all too willing to swallow whichever story they chose to feed him with.
The total unsuitability of this site as a place through which to process their planned 1000 tons of waste a day, situated as it is next to a residential neighborhood and on the banks of the Susquehanna River, never seems to have occurred to them and, even if it did, was a factor to which they gave scant consideration.
The Rendell Administration in Harrisburg had blocked the use of the former Celotex site for the trans-shipment of fracking waste by rail to Ohio, pending a full review by John Hanger’s Department of Environmental Protection. However, the incoming Corbett, whose campaign had received massive financial backing from the gas fracking industry, wasted no time in overturning this block – in fact, the trains started to run early January 2011, the day before his inauguration. According to public disclosures, John Moran had donated $141,000 to Corbett’s campaign and regularly accompanies the Governor on overseas trips, has paid the $1,422 cost for a yachting trip to Rhode Island, and flown Corbett around the state in his personal helicopter.
Under Corbett, the DEP has lost its teeth. Its budget has been cut and staffing levels reduced and its top officials are little more than lap dogs, trained to leave the gas frackers well alone.
The City of Sunbury does have legal authority to clean up this site – to shut it down until such time as the numerous code violations are resolved, and to insure that no activities are taking place there which could be detrimental to the health and well being of our people. However, this is something which is never going to happen under Persing!