PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, has been charged by criminal information in federal court and a former supervisor has been indicted for violating the Clean Water Act, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been charged and will plead guilty to one count of violating its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (the NPDES Permit) by discharging sludge into the Allegheny River. The Authority will also plead guilty to seven counts of making false statements in written reports about the amount of sludge it was sending the ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility. Under the terms of the plea agreement, PWSA will agree to adhere to the terms of a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Program to correct the violations of federal law and to prevent further unlawful pollution of the Allegheny River.
In a related matter, former Aspinwall Drinking Water Treatment Plant supervisor Glenn Lijewski, 69, of Pittsburgh, was indicted on November 12, 2020, and charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act and two counts of violating the PWSA’s Clean Water Act Industrial User Permit. The indictment alleges that Lijewski was directly responsible for the unauthorized discharge of clarifier sludge into the Allegheny River in violation of the PWSA’s NPDES Permit. It further alleges Lijewski directed other plant employees to discharge sludge into the river. Finally, the indictment alleges Lijewski directed employees to use estimated sludge flow numbers instead of actual numbers, and that the use of these estimated numbers violated PWSA’s Industrial User Permit.
“For seven years, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has failed to meet its public trust obligations in complying with the Clean Water Act during the production of drinking water for the citizens of Pittsburgh,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “Today’s criminal charges shed light on years of mismanagement and malfeasance. The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are committed to protecting you and your families by ensuring that the water you drink is produced safely and that the area’s rivers are not polluted with waste.”
“The people of Pittsburgh deserve and expect local utilities to obey environmental requirements that protect natural resources,” said EPA Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn. “The defendants in this case are accused of dumping sludge into the Allegheny River. Today’s charges show that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing regulations that help protect our communities from environmental and health hazards.”
The Criminal Information filed today alleges that PWSA violated its NPDES Permit when its employees at the Aspinwall Drinking Water Treatment Plant discharged sludge generated during the drinking water treatment process into the Allegheny River. During this process various chemicals are added to water drawn from the Allegheny River. These chemicals cause small particles suspended in the water to clump together. Afterwards, the partially treated water is transferred to two large sedimentation basins where solids and debris settle out. The water is then transferred back to the Aspinwall Plant where it was subjected to a clarification process. This took place in a facility known as the Clarifier Building, which contains four large concrete basins known as clarifiers. The addition of chemicals to the water promoted the generation of additional clumps of solids which settled on the bottom of each clarifier and were pumped to a large concrete structure located near the banks of the Allegheny River. The solids were referred to as sludge and the large concrete pit was referred to as “the sludge pit,” “the ALCOSAN pit,” or “FM-5.” FM-5 had pipes that led to the Allegheny River and sewer line.
Under the terms of its NPDES Permit, PWSA was only permitted to discharge storm runoff water and partially treated drinking water that needed to be emptied out of a clarifier prior to cleaning and repairs. That water was referred to as “clarifier blowdown.” PWSA was not permitted to discharge clarifier sludge into the Allegheny River.
Instead, between 2010 and May 2017, PWSA employees and supervisors at the Aspinwall Plant diverted and discharged sludge into the Allegheny River. By using electronic or manual controls at FM- 5, the employees caused the sludge to flow from FM-5 to a discharge point known as Outfall 012 and then into the Allegheny River.
At various points, plumes of discolored water, some of which were several hundred feet long, and solids were visible in the river. Over time, the sludge discharge resulted in a buildup of solids. Employees at the Aspinwall Plant referred to the buildup as an island. Birds were also observed walking on the island when the river levels were low. The river’s currents dissipated the island over time, but the island would reappear when new discharges occurred.
PWSA had also been issued a Clean Water Act Industrial User Permit by ALCOSAN. Under the terms of this permit, PWSA was permitted to ship one million gallons of sludge per day to ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility. The permit required PWSA to determine the daily amount of sludge through the use of a meter. PWSA installed flow meters at FM-5 and at the clarifier basins. The readings from the meters had to be included in bi-annual reports PWSA was required to submit under the penalties of perjury to ALCOSAN.
The flow meters at two of the clarifier basins broke in or around late December 2014 or early January 2015. The meter at FM-5 also broke and was inactive by early 2015. As a result, PWSA supervisors at the plant instructed the plant’s operators to estimate the amount of sludge flowing from the clarifier basins to FM-5 and from there to the ALCOSAN facility. These estimates were also included in the reports PWSA sent to ALCOSAN. These reports also represented that PWSA’s employees periodically checked the calibration of the sludge flow meters to ensure they were within factory limits.
Each report was signed by a PWSA representative as being “true, accurate, and complete.”
In July 2019, PWSA’s management obtained approval from PWSA’s Board of Directors for funds in “the amount of $47,852,71 to furnish and install four new flow meters for the sludge valves associated with each of the four clarifiers at the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant.” On January 15, 2020, investigators from the EPA, an attorney from the United States Attorney’s Office, and an attorney from EPA, Criminal Enforcement visited the Aspinwall Plant to interview employees and tour the facility. Part of the tour included a walk through the Clarifier Building and past the meters. No mention as to the inoperability of the meters was made. The following day, two of PWSA’s employees informed the investigators and the prosecutors that two of the meters were broken and had been for years. In February 2020, PWSA replaced the sludge flow meters, more than five years after they had broken.
Under the terms of the plea agreement PWSA will be placed on probation for a period of three years. In lieu of a fine, PWSA will be required to pay $500,000 into a self-funded Compliance Fund. Under the terms of the plea agreement, PWSA is not permitted to use the fund’s cost as a justification for any rate increase proposal it may submit to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The fund will be used to pay for comprehensive environmental compliance program to which PWSA must adhere. This program will be subject to the approval of the United States Attorney’s Office and will focus on the production of drinking water; PWSA’s compliance with it NPDES and Industrial User Permits; and the proper storage of chemicals at the plant. The United States Attorney’s Office and the EPA will monitor implementation of the plan during PWSA’s period of probation. PWSA will also be required to provide annual environmental audits to the United States Attorney’s Office and the EPA. These audits will also be available on the Authority’s website for the public’s benefit. PWSA will also be required to install an Environmental Compliance Manager at the Aspinwall Plant. This individual will be authorized to receive complaints and conduct investigations concerning environmental issues occurring at the plant.
For Lijewski, the law provides for a maximum term of imprisonment of five years as to the Conspiracy count and three years for a violation of a Clean Water Act Industrial User Permit. There are also potential fines associated with these crimes. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.
Assistant United States Attorney Michael Leo Ivory and Martin Harrell, a criminal enforcement attorney with EPA Region 3 Office of Regional Counsel, are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Environmental Protection Agency conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.