Western Pa.'s trashiest locations found around waterways
Tires, water bottles, shingles, hypodermic needles, even a tractor lawn mower are among the finds at the trashiest places in the Pittsburgh area.
Trib Total Media surveyed organizers of River Sweep, celebrating its 25th anniversary, Allegheny CleanWays, and watershed groups to pick the trashiest places near waterways in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties.
Betsy Mallison, local coordinator of River Sweep, that said during those 25 years, there has been 900 tons of trash lifted from the Allegheny, Mon, Ohio, Yough and Beaver rivers and their tributaries.
Pound for pound, Nine Mile Run/Duck Hollow area near the Homestead Bridge was the trashiest place by sheer volume.
While illegal dumping of household items, garbage and construction materials aren't tipping scales, it's persistent at Roaring Run and Rattling Run, tributaries of the Kiskiminetas River in Kiski Township .
Mallison has seen a quarter century of progress — and frustration.
“We found more trash along the sides of rivers then; that has improved,” said Mallison, who started the state's participation in the multi-state waterways cleanup.
“But midnight dumping is still an issue.”
Running Allegheny CleanWays' pontoon boat last week, its platform caked in mud from the countless tons of river trash, R. Evan Clark, the boat's pilot, pulls up to a raft of trash woven into a mat of floating sticks and branches hugging the shore of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh's South Side.
“Classic,” he says spotting a white plastic shopping bag hanging on a tree.
A tangle of water bottles, a soccer ball and cigarette butts are cloaked in the understory of Japanese knotweed — the invasive plant's ability to corral garbage is its only redeeming quality.
More boaters, anglers and party people frequent the rivers, leaving empty beer and food cans.
Storms loosen candy wrappers, cigarette butts and other litter from nearby streets, dragging it through the storm sewers to the river.
Enforcement of litter laws is haphazard.
“It's a hard nut to crack,” said Myrna Newman, executive director of Allegheny CleanWays.
“While it definitely does not rise to the top of ‘important crimes' with some law enforcement agencies – particularly municipal police and magistrates – part of the reason is that littering and dumping are difficult crimes to catch.”
But technology is helping. Surveillance programs supported by grants have resulted in arrests in recent years, according to Newman.
CleanWays' parent organization — Keep PA Beautiful — has been working with a number of law enforcement agencies.
After Christina Handley, 33, from Harmony, Butler County found a riding lawn mower while kayaking on Connoquenessing Creek, she started the nonprofit Allegheny Aquatic Alliance in 2012.
Her trash finds continue to amaze. For example, Handley, her husband, Michael, and other volunteers pulled 100 Kmart shopping carts from along the Connoquenessing in the city of Butler.
“But the Kmart isn't by the creek,” she said.
John Linkes, who coordinates cleanups for Roaring Run and Kiski River watershed groups in Armstrong County, found a stash of used Coleman canister propane tanks in an illegal dump several years ago off Garvers Ferry Road in Parks Township near Roaring Run.
“The police had busted a house with a meth lab nearby,” said Linkes. “Either the guy who dumped them really liked camping or it was part of a mobile meth lab.”
Dennis Hawley, program coordinator of Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center in Bethel, finds a lot of personal trash near waterways and nearby hollows. Among the most foul: Empty plastic bottles of “Gatorade” filled with urine thrown from cars.
The odd household items are found at illegal dumps, usually isolated roads leading to the lips of steep hills, the couch pushed over the hill sits next to a refrigerator on a steep bluff sprinkled with tires and shingles.
“My theory is that people will rent a house, they accumulate and they have to move,” said Hawley.
“Then they don't have the resources to pay somebody to haul things away — or maybe they have to get out of there in a hurry — and they just dump it.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.