Reintroduced bill would finally close Pennsylvania’s hazardous waste loophole

Posted May 13, 2021, by Lisa DePaoli

Contact: Jodi Hirsh, jodi@sequalconsulting.com, 412-342-8862 or Lisa DePaoli, lisa@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org, 724-229-3550 ext. 5‬‬

WASHINGTON, PA — Today, State Representative Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) and Senator Katie Muth (D-Berks, Chester, Montgomery) have reintroduced legislation to protect public health by closing a 30-year-old loophole in state laws governing the disposal of toxic drilling waste.

Because of a shortsighted exemption made 30 years ago, Pennsylvanians are exposed daily to potentially toxic and radioactive waste produced by the oil and gas industry. Although drilling waste contains proprietary chemical additives, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, radionuclides and salts that can be toxic to humans and the environment, companies have been able to take advantage of loopholes in the state’s Solid Waste Management Act and Title 58, which exclude oil and gas companies from the requirement to thoroughly test or treat waste prior to disposal in municipal landfills or wastewater treatment facilities.

This gives oil and gas companies an unfair advantage over other industries, while pushing responsibility for their consequences to public health and the environment onto residents, communities, and taxpayers of the commonwealth.

“Industry constantly claims that their waste is safe and there is no cause to worry. If the waste is safe and will pass hazardous waste protocols, there should be no pushback from the industry on closing the loophole,” said Heaven Sensky, Community Organizer at the Center for Coalfield Justice.“Test the waste. Reassure us that it’s safe by showing us the results.” 

The testing failure means that toxic and radioactive material present in drilling waste ends up in public water systems and that workers hauling the waste could be exposed to radioactive elements. In recent years, researchers discovered accumulations of radium up to 650 times higher in river sediments where treated conventional oil and gas wastewater was discharged than levels detected at sampling locations directly upstream.

Center for Coalfield Justice member Janice Blanock said “Losing my 19 year old son Luke to a rare pediatric bone cancer makes me wonder how safe our environment is, when we are surrounded by the oil and gas industry in Washington County. Since the day Luke died, I have wondered why. When I discovered other parents in my neighborhood and in our school district going through the horror that we had – losing our child to a “rare” and extremely aggressive cancer – that’s when I started to wonder if living here caused it. Losing a child and not knowing why is a parent’s worst nightmare – one I hope you never have to experience. Industry tells us every day that their operations are safe for the community, so prove it and support this legislation.”

The legislation proposed by Representative Sara Innamorato and Senator Katie Muth would repeal the language under Title 58 that exempts the oil and gas industry from complying with the provisions of the Solid Waste Management Act, and include drilling waste in the definition of “hazardous waste” under the Solid Waste Management Act.

“Residents across political party lines are being exposed to hazardous waste because of this loophole and this is a bipartisan issue. All legislators must ask at this moment is: Is protecting the pocketbooks of CEO’s and shareholders more important than protecting the health of our children?,” said Lois Bower Bjornson, mom and Center for Coalfield Justice Board Member.



  • Lisa DePaoli

    Lisa (Coffield) DePaoli joined the CCJ staff in 2018 and is now our Communications Director. She grew up in rural Washington County, has family in both Washington and Greene Counties, and has always loved animals and spending time outdoors. A first-generation and nontraditional college student, her deep interest in human beings and ecology led her to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. She has worked on research projects and taught at the university level in the U.S. and in field schools in Latin America. The knowledge and experience she gained increased her concern for environmental and social justice issues, which she believes are best addressed at the local level, or from the "bottom up," including the voices of those who are most impacted. Lisa works to understand issues from the local to the global, seeks to make a positive difference, and loves to talk to people about what interests or concerns them. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, furkids, and friends, and walking in the woods with her dogs. Contact Lisa at lisa@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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