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Dust, odor from waste treatment site anger Yukon-area neighbors

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

Yukon-area residents who say they are upset about bad odors and dust blowing onto their homes from MAX Environmental Technologies Inc.'s hazardous waste treatment and storage facility vented their frustrations at a public hearing this week.

“You want to do more, and you can't control what you are doing now,” said Harold Jones, who lives along Spring Street, not far from the entrance to MAX Environmental's facility.

The odor coming from the hazardous waste treatment site is so bad at times that “I can't eat out on my deck,” Jones told company officials and about 60 residents who attended the two-hour public hearing on Tuesday in the Yukon fire hall.

MAX Environmental fielded numerous complaints during the public hearing on its plans to apply to the Department of Environmental Protection for a 10-year renewal of its operating permit. The company, which is based in Upper St. Clair, intends to apply for a permit renewal by Aug. 19, which is six months before the existing permit expires in February 2015.

The company takes hazardous waste from a variety of industrial processes — such as acid from steel mill operations and cuttings from the drilling of natural gas wells — neutralizes the waste through chemical treatment and then disposes of it at the Yukon facility or another site.

“If the DEP grants them another permit, that's a terrible injustice. They're ruining our environment,” said James Knepper of Spring Street.

Craig Zafaras, who has property near the site, questioned whether the dust blowing off the treatment and storage facility is harmful to his health.

“I've seen better dust control at the carnival with the elephants,” Zafaras said.

MAX Environmental engineer Carl Spadaro defended the company's attempts to reduce the odors and confine the dust to its facility, which include operating street sweepers and power-washing trucks bringing waste material to the site.

Spadaro said efforts to control the odors and dust are working because the number of calls the company receives about those problems has declined.

Matthew Bryan of Yukon, an equipment operator at MAX Environmental, said the dust coming from the facility is no more than what blows off a typical construction site.

As part of its proposed operations over the next 10 years, the company is seeking approval to treat mercury contained in materials and to construct a 75-by-125-foot concrete building to hold waste temporarily. The waste could be piled 20 feet high in the building, said Gary Brown, an independent consulting engineer.

The mercury MAX Environmental intends to accept is in low levels and not in the form of a vapor that could blow off the site, said Jeffrey Funk, a laboratory manager for the company. The mercury would be contained in soil from the remediation of brownfield industrial sites or from spills, Spadaro said.

As MAX Environmental prepares to apply for a renewal of its permit, the company has applied to the state for permission to raise the vertical height of its impoundment No. 6 by 40 feet. The company is proposing to raise the height at the center of the site while keeping the existing vertical walls at the same level. If approved, the change would increase the life of the impoundment site by 10 years, Spadaro said.

Regardless of whether the state renews MAX Environmental's permit, Spadaro said, the company will maintain the site and control the pollution as long as it owns it.

Several residents said state environmental officials should have attended the meeting. Spadaro said he invited DEP representatives, but none attended.

One of those Spadaro said he invited, John Poister, community relations coordinator at the agency's Pittsburgh office, said state environmental regulators do not attend public hearings before the company submits its application because they do not know what the application will contain.

The department will conduct a public meeting after MAX Environmental submits its application for renewal, Poister said.

“We're never shy about meeting with the people in Yukon,” Poister said.

State Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, urged residents to keep accurate and thorough records of when they smell bad odors or see dust blowing off the dump site or on the roads, and they should notify the state.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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