Hydrofracking foes question Bath landfill water testing methods

Mary Perham

Questions were raised Monday about whether Steuben County is adequately testing liquid waste trucked in for treatment at its leachate treatment facility.

Local environmental lawyer Rachel Treichler told the county Legislature’s Public Works Committee concerns are being raised after a recent survey showed a number of agencies do not use state environmental guidelines in testing liquids sent for treatment.

Treichler’s primary concern was that the chemically treated water – or back flow -- used to extract natural gas from Marcellus Shale drillings was accepted at the county landfill on Turnpike Road.

Critics of the extraction, also known as hydrofracking, charge debris and water from the drilling are toxic and radioactive, and imperil the local water supply.

The county landfill pipes treated leachate to the Village of Bath’s sewer lines where it is treated by the municipal Bath Electric Gas and Water System.

County Public Works Commissioner Vince Spagnoletti said Steuben has too many safeguards in place to allow the contaminated water into the landfill’s treatment facility.

Spagnoletti said later Steuben does accept treated wastewater from Casella’s Highland Allegany landfill. The Casella landfill, located in Allegany County, accepts cuttings from shale drillings.

However, the Allegany facility has radiation monitors, and tests its leachate according to state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, Spagnoletti said.

Steuben’s landfill also has active radiation detectors haulers must pass through and tests the water according to DEC safety regs, he said.

But the county has no intention of accepting shale backflow, which has too much brine to be treated at the leachate plant, he said.

“We were asked a couple of years ago, and we said we’d have to build a $30 million plant to treat it, so no, we’re not accepting backflow,” Spagnoletti said.

There’s an unscientific but no less secure way of being sure the county is not inadvertently taking in the toxic briney wastewater, he said.

“If we did, it would destroy our plant,” he said. “It would shut down operations immediately.”