Pa. waste facility is a threat to waterways

March 2019 PollutionBy JOHN LESLIE

Elcon Recycling, an Israeli-based company, has proposed the construction of a toxic waste processing plant in suburban Philadelphia. The plant would boil toxic chemical and pharmaceutical waste to remove the water from it, reducing the materials to a toxic sludge. The resulting muck, which could contain elements such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, would be disposed of or stored elsewhere.

Elcon projects that the facility would treat between 150,000 and 210,000 tons of waste annually. Dozens of trucks would transport hazardous waste to the facility every week via local highways.

The proposed plant, to be located on the old United States Steel Fairless Works site in Bucks County, Pa., is less than a mile away from a creek that empties into the Delaware River. The former steel mill site is already environmentally compromised by decades of steelmaking before production was terminated. The 3000-acre property, considered a brownfield by the Environmental Protection Agency, is already the location of a trash incinerator and landfills owned by Waste Management.

Ten percent of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of this plant. Proximity of the proposed facility to the river is a concern because 17 million people get their drinking water from the Delaware. If a spill were to occur, water supplies could be threatened for weeks. Any release of hazardous materials into the river would threaten recreational boating and fishing.

Elcon estimates that the plant would create from 100-120 construction jobs, plus 50 full-time jobs for plant employees. Opponents argue that the jobs created are not a sufficient gain for the community, considering the jobs that could be lost if the river were contaminated by toxic waste. However, building-trades unions have been vocal in their support for construction of the facility.

An attempt in 2015 to get approval for construction initially failed to get past a Phase I review by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) because of insufficient information on potential flooding. The application was successfully resubmitted for a Phase I review later that year and then subjected to a more rigorous Phase II review. In May 2017, the Phase II application was rejected because of incomplete information provided by Elcon. The current DEP Phase II review will continue until May 2019.

Activists have expressed concerns about Elcon’s lack of transparency in the application process. The company has been vague or deceptive about investors, what materials would be processed, and safety procedures. Others have expressed doubts about the company’s possibly questionable practices in Israel, including the burying of “gray” waste in a landfill. It is unclear what effect the treatment process would have on air quality, noting that lower Bucks County has the worst smog levels in Pennsylvania.

At a community meeting on Feb. 6, residents heard an update from organizations that are fighting against construction of the toxic plant. These groups, which include 350 Bucks County, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Protect Our Water and Air, and the Coalition for Peace Action, have relied on legal challenges, lobbying the DEP and putting pressure on the local township council to halt the project. There is discussion of running an activist for council.

Lobbying politicians and getting elected are not enough. A broad-based mass struggle against toxic capitalism and climate change is necessary if the planet is to survive. Capitalism, a system based on maximizing profits at any cost, is a threat to the future of humanity and nature. Reformist solutions are inadequate for the tasks ahead; we need a revolutionary solution to the climate crisis.

Many of the provisions of the Green New Deal (GND) would contribute to a more stable and sustainable future. However, as long as the GND is trapped in a capitalist framework, the results will be distorted in the interests of capital.

Trump’s recent rhetoric against both socialism and the GND is calculated to reinforce the mythology that capitalism is the only possible system. Trump’s claims that a transition to clean energy would lead to increased unemployment, the elimination of cows, and no air travel are ridiculous.

But the only way to resolve the climate crisis in a way that favors the interests of workers and oppressed people is to take steps towards the socialist reorganization of society. A workers’ government would immediately expropriate the energy industry and launch a transition to renewable energy production. It would restructure industries, transportation, energy production and distribution, and communities along democratic and sustainable lines.