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DEP: Work to begin on untreated waterwater and sludge at Conemaugh disposal site

Jason Cato

Workers could begin as early as next week cleaning up untreated wastewater and sludge from coal mines and drilling operations left by a closed treatment company before it spills into the recovering Conemaugh River, the state Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday.

A holding pond at the former Tunnelton Liquids Co. site in Conemaugh, Indiana County, near the border with Westmoreland County, contains 3.2 million gallons of untreated water and approximately 12,000 cubic yards of sludge containing Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or TENORM, said DEP spokesman John Poister.

“We feared if left alone, that pond would eventually overflow,” Poister said. “The Conemaugh has been making a comeback in recent years. So we decided to make an intervention.”

The work is expected to cost $2.4 million, which will be covered through the state's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund.

Tunnelton Liquids, which closed in April 2014, was formed to treat acid mine drainage from an abandoned deep mine. It also treated wastewater from oil and gas drilling.

In May 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency told the company that mixing acid mine drainage with “oil-field brine” is not authorized.

The company pumped many materials it received into a settlement pond about an acre in size and located near the riverbank, Poister said.

The wastewater will be treated and the sludge disposed of in approved landfills in Pennsylvania. None of the materials have entered the Conemaugh, Poister said.

“We don't want that at all,” he said. “We want to get it remediated.”

DEP officials are still considering whether to pursue the former company owner to recoup some cleanup costs, Poister said.


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