The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Renee Cho, Riverkeeper 914-478-4501 x 239

Riverkeeper Commends DEC's Swift Response to Halt Illegal Landfill Pollution

Lehigh Cement fined $50,000, ordered to halt illegal discharges and remediate contaminated wetlands


Riverkeeper today commended the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for responding quickly to halt the illegal discharge of landfill leachate into wetlands and the Hudson River from Lehigh Northeast Cement Company's closed cement kiln dust landfill in Catskill, NY. On September 10, 2008, the DEC and Lehigh Cement entered into an Order on Consent in which Lehigh (1) admitted to violating provisions of the state Environmental Conservation Law, (2) agreed to pay a penalty of $50,000, (3) agreed to implement measures to contain and treat leachate from its landfill, and (4) agreed to remediate damage to adjacent wetlands where sediment deposited by the leachate was found to be up to one foot thick.

The DEC first became aware of this pollution on July 10, 2008 after Riverkeeper served notice of its intent to sue Lehigh Cement Company for violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). During the 60-day required waiting period following the filing of a Notice of Intent to Sue (NOIS) under the CWA, the alleged polluter is given an opportunity to come into compliance with the law, and state and federal officials are given an opportunity to bring their own enforcement action. Following the filing of its NOIS, Riverkeeper worked cooperatively with the DEC, providing the state with the evidence uncovered during its investigation. The DEC and Lehigh reached a settlement and entered into the Order on September 10, exactly 60 days after the NOIS filing after which Riverkeeper could have initiated a formal suit under the CWA.

"The DEC should be commended for acting quickly and decisively to halt these illegal discharges and order remediation of these sensitive wetlands," said Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Josh Verleun. "As a watchdog for the Hudson River, Riverkeeper always welcomes the chance to work cooperatively with the DEC when bringing polluters to justice."

Riverkeeper's investigation into these discharges began after a helicopter patrol of the Hudson River revealed bright golden colored ponds on Lehigh's property which were located between a closed landfill and the Hudson River. Further investigation found that the ponds were full of highly alkaline landfill leachate with a pH similar to household bleach. This leachate was collecting in a rip-rap channel at the base of the landfill and flowing into wetland ponds which are connected to the Hudson River. Lehigh's landfill, which is adjacent to the Hudson, contains cement kiln dust, a byproduct of the cement manufacturing process which is known to contain metals such as antimony, arsenic, barium, lead, chromium and mercury, in addition to being highly alkaline.

The DEC Order requires Lehigh to implement a permanent plan to contain and treat leachate from its landfill and develop and implement a plan to remediate the contaminated wetlands. Riverkeeper will monitor the ongoing remediation to ensure that this sensitive habitat is protected and restored.

Riverkeeper protects and restores the Hudson River from source to sea and safeguards drinking water supplies, through advocacy rooted in community partnerships, science and law.