From The Morning Call -- February 24, 2004

Hauler fined for handling sludge

Lehigh Valley Recycling is ordered to pay $200,000.

Of The Morning Call
Lehigh Valley Recycling Inc. entered a no contest plea Monday to violating the state's Solid Waste Management Act by bringing 96,000 tons of mostly out-of-state sewage sludge into Pennsylvania without approval from the Department of Environmental Protection.
At a hearing in Lehigh County Court, Pasquale Mascaro, the corporation's president and chief executive officer, entered the plea for the corporation to 13 counts of unlawful conduct, a third-degree misdemeanor, under the act.
The corporation has a waste transfer station in North Whitehall Township that is used by haulers and is designed to temporarily store municipal waste, or common household trash, and sewage sludge, a type of residual waste characterized as a ''special-handling'' waste.
Charges were dropped against another defendant, Solid Waste Services Inc., doing business as J.P. Mascaro & Sons, a Montgomery County waste handler that also was charged with accepting certain customers' sludge at the company-affiliated transfer station without necessary approval.

Lawyers for the corporations said the importing of sludge has caused no negative environmental impact, but the prosecution said that may not be possible to determine.

Lehigh Valley Recycling contended that the case arose from what it viewed as ''paperwork violations.'' The corporation relied on representations of a former employee who said necessary documents were filed when they were not, according to the defense.

Judge William H. Platt ordered Lehigh Valley Recycling to pay a $200,000 fine, which was part of the plea agreement. The corporation is to pay $150,000 of the fine to the Solid Waste Abatement Fund and $50,000 to environmental charities.

Deputy Attorney General Heather A. Castellino said the $50,000 could be given to local charities. In the past, fines for solid waste violations have been given to chapters of the Audubon Society and wildlife funds.

Lehigh Valley Recycling also was ordered to pay a $5,000 investigative fee to the state attorney general's office.

In 2002, state agents charged Lehigh Valley Recycling with allowing 2,500 truckloads of waste to be brought into Ormrod from May 1997 to October 2001. The prosecution said that 90 percent of the sewage sludge came from New York state. About 1,050 tons came from Northampton borough and Camden, N.J.

Lehigh Valley Recycling had a permit from the DEP to operate a transfer facility. The corporation was required to file a form with the department seeking approval to accept sewage sludge from particular customers, called generators. Test results are to be included on the form so the department can ensure the sludge is safe.

State agents reviewed tracking reports that the corporation submitted from 1997 to 2001 and determined that sludge from 13 generators had been received without department approval, Castellino said.

''What is the environmental impact of these acts?'' Platt asked the lawyers.

''That is a question we may never know the answer to,'' Castellino said.

The state can't assess the impact, if any, because there were no tests on the sludge received from the 13 customers in the past. Since then, the department has received more recent test results and has approved some of the generators, allowing the corporation to accept sludge from those customers, according to the prosecution.

Lawyer Albert DeGennaro, who represented Lehigh Valley Recycling and Solid Waste Services in the case, said the environmental laws of the state weren't followed but that there has been no harm to the environment.

The charges, he said, resulted from an ''unfortunate set of circumstances.'' He said Solid Waste Services had nothing to do with the paperwork violations.

Attorney William F. Fox Jr., general counsel for Lehigh Valley Recycling and J.P. Mascaro & Sons, said corporate officers didn't intentionally violate any laws and didn't try to hide the sludge.

He said the state was aware that Lehigh Valley Recycling was receiving sludge for many years from some of the customers because of activity reports to the department that identified the generators. Everyone, he said, thought the appropriate paperwork for approval had been filed.

Fox blamed the corporation's former director of environmental compliance for not getting necessary approvals. The corporation's reliance on that employee, he said, ''was misplaced.'' The employee has since lost the job.

DeGennaro said the corporation could not prove that it submitted necessary forms for approval. Fox said the corporation entered the plea because it realized that it could be held legally responsible for the employee's errors.

Castellino said the state doesn't agree with all the corporation's contentions.

Fox said the sludge was properly processed and disposed of later.

Investigators didn't find any wrongdoing in how the sludge ultimately was disposed of, Castellino said. The point, she said, is that ''it still came into the state illegally.''

Platt noted that there are reasons for the law and concerns about what comes into the state.

Castellino said the DEP does not do daily tests of sludge or checks on businesses and relies on corporations to keep and submit accurate paperwork.

Fox said the transfer station still gets sludge from some of the generators named in the criminal complaint.


Copyright 2004, The Morning Call

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