Bangor, Pennsylvania was once the slate-producing capital of the world. Now the abandoned quarries are candidates for toxic dumping.
For over 30 years, one particular quarry has been receiving truckloads of ash from the GenOn coal plant in Mt.Bethel. The ash is now level with the top of the pit and blows over town on windy days. This quarry has been re-named the Bangor Ash Disposal Site.
Before 1995, ash was thrown directly into the water at the bottom of the hole. Then the Department of Environmental Protection required a liner to be installed.
GenOn is allowed to regularly release water from two ash sedimentation ponds into Brushy Meadow Creek. Environmental Integrity Group has documented high levels of fluoride, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and other heavy metals in this stream. It is designated as a breeding ground for aquatic life, and is stocked with trout. Brushy Meadow flows through town and joins Martins Creek on its way to the Delaware River. The Delaware is the source of drinking water for 15 million people.
Ash trucks traveling from GenOn to The ash disposal site, a distance of seven miles, have leaked ash throughout the countryside. Because of outcry from drivers following behind, GenOn fitted new tarps in 2011. Up to 30 trucks a day are permitted to dump, for which Bangor receives $5 a ton.
Over the years, neighboring communities have contracted with Bangor to spread ash on their roads in winter. This is considered a cost-effective practice. No one is questioning the toxicity of this material that sticks to tires and seeps into groundwater and the food chain.
The MAPLE Coalition (Multi-State Alliance Promoting Lasting Energy) was formed to advocate the closure of GenOn, one of the oldest and dirtiest power plants in the nation. It also addresses the need for conservation, and energy from renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. MAPLE has sponsored high visibility events, such as a coal-free flotilla down the Delaware, and demonstrations in Portland and Mt. Bethel, to emphasize solidarity across state borders. Members include Genesis Farm Ecological Learning Center, the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley, Delaware Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Stop the Lines, and Save the Park.
Recently, MAPLE conducted a door-to-door survey in Bangor. About 70% of the 1,100 people interviewed signed a petition to close GenOn. One family with four children moved to Bangor a year ago. Since then, each child has developed asthma. The family lives downwind of the ash disposal site.
Two timely decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will affect GenOn’s future. GenOn must reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide and mercury being emitted. (In 2009, this plant spewed over 300 pounds of mercury into the air. Mercury the size of a dime is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake.) Although the company just filed an appeal to the EPA, it may decide to upgrade its pollution controls rather than lock its doors. Then the ash brought to Bangor will be even more toxic, as the pollutants once pumped into the air will now be concentrated in the ash.
A quarry across the road from The disposal site has been under consideration for the dumping of out-of-state dirt. Last year, residents united and helped stop the quarry from being sold to a company indicted for illegal dumping. Unfortunately, the Bangor Borough Authority is currently negotiating with another soil reclamation firm. The Authority may collaborate with Nimaris Construction to accept dirt by truck and rail.
With over 50 empty quarries in the Slate Belt and hydrofracking rampant in Pennsylvania, Bangor could become the toxic waste capital of the northeast. Concerned citizens are encouraging the Bangor Borough Council to move in a sustainable direction that would preserve the town’s history, such as tourism. Meanwhile, raising awareness in the local population continues.
- by Anna Maria Caldara
Anna Maria Caldara is an author, writer, and activist living in Bangor.