PennEnvironment, Sierra Club announce Clean Water Act lawsuit against PPG

Groups cite ongoing violations at PPG’s Ford City site
For Immediate Release

[Pittsburgh, PA]—Two statewide environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit today against PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) Industries alleging ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act at the company’s Ford City site which is polluting the neighboring Allegheny River. The site is located 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Armstrong County, just south of Kittanning, Pennsylvania. 

“Just days after ringing in the New Year, PennEnvironment’s resolution to the people of the Pittsburgh area is to deliver a cleaner Allegheny River by getting this illegal polluter to clean up its act,” stated Erika Staaf, PennEnvironment’s Clean Water Advocate.

PPG’s Ford City waste site is nearly 150 acres and includes 77-acres of waste slurry lagoons. Today, the lagoons sit like a terrace above the Allegheny River, elevated nearly 130 feet at its highest point. 

From approximately 1950 to 1970, PPG pumped waste from its glass manufacturing plant located across the river through a pipe to the slurry lagoons. As the lagoons were filled, the dike walls were raised to accommodate the placement of additional slurry waste. 

PPG’s waste from the Ford City site contains high levels of metals, particularly arsenic, lead, antimony, iron, aluminum, chromium, and is highly corrosive. The waste leaks through the rock face, creating numerous seeps along the southern portion of the site which then empty into the Allegheny River.

Members from the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club pointed out that PPG’s corporate code of ethics states that ‘PPG will design, build and operate our facilities in ways that respect public health and the environment, conserve energy, water and raw materials, integrate pollution prevention and make a positive contribution to the surrounding community and to society as a whole,’ a far cry from the violations amassed at their Ford City site.

We are keenly disappointed that in the case of the Ford City site, PPG Industries has abandoned its clearly stated corporate responsibilities and has chosen to allow discharges of toxic pollutants into the Allegheny River,” stated Peter Wray, Chairperson for the Allegheny Group of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This threatens not only local aquatic wildlife, but safe use of the river for fishing, swimming, recreating and drinking.”  

In 1971, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) entered into an agreement with PPG, but PPG’s remediation plan was rejected by DEP because it contemplated continuing untreated discharges from the Ford City site. 

The following year, PPG sold the site to Ford City for $1.00. Over the past 40 years, PPG has submitted studies, reports, and proposals to DEP, and there have been many communications between PPG and DEP, but there has been no effort to control the discharge of contaminants from the site.

Finally, in 2009, DEP issued an administrative order under Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law requiring PPG to start monitoring and reporting contaminant levels in the seeps along the river, to implement measures to prevent people from entering the site and to collect the seepage and either treat it or haul it from the site.

The environmental groups’ lawsuit contends that PPG has failed for decades to install a treatment system designed to remove or minimize these pollutants in its discharges and to obtain the required Clean Water Act permits for its discharges, and contends that PPG has violated the requirements of the 2009 Administrative Order in numerous ways.  

“PPG has had five decades to properly remediate this site, stop its illegal pollution, and protect the Allegheny River. The time for action to clean up this site is now,” stated Staaf.  “Our environmental laws are meaningless if polluters can violate them with impunity. When persistent violations are not addressed by the government, our federal environmental laws allow private citizens to enforce the law and protect the environment.”

PennEnvironment and Sierra Club believe that PPG has the legal responsibility—and the financial ability—to comply with the law and stop the discharge of harmful pollutants from its Ford City site. PPG’s sales were over $12 billion in 2009. After fifty years of pollution at Ford City, the plaintiffs believe PPG can be a good corporate neighbor and clean up this site. 

As required by the federal Clean Water Act, PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club sent a 60-day notice letter to PPG on November 2nd declaring our intent to file suit against PPG. At no point during the 60-day notice period were the plaintiffs or their attorneys contacted by PPG in regards to their violations or to discuss our notice letter. 

“It is regrettable that to protect the public from this source of pollution, PPG Industries has to be taken to court to meet its own ethical obligations and to comply with the Clean Water Act,” reiterated Wray.