PWSA Charged With Illegally Discharging Sludge Into Allegheny River

Nov 18, 2020

On Wednesday the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced federal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority for past violations of the Clean Water Act.

Between 2010 and 2017, PWSA illegally discharged solids into the Allegheny River from its Aspinwall plant. When river water is pulled into the plant, chemical additives cause particles to clump together and settle out. Usually that “sludge” is piped to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

However, an investigation found that at various times during that seven-year period it was released into the Allegheny River. PWSA was also required to make a daily measurement of how much flow it sent to ALCOSAN. When two meters broke, employees instead estimated the amount of flow, but said the reports were true and accurate. PWSA was charged with making false statements. The former supervisor of the plant, Glenn Lijewski, has also been charged.

“As western Pennsylvanians we cherish our abundant natural resources, and we take seriously our responsibility to protect and preserve them,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady at a press conference.. “The U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA protect you and your families by ensuring the water you drink is free of pollutants.”

Will Pickering, PWSA’s chief executive officer, said the discharges did not affect the quality or safety of the agency’s drinking water. In a statement, he wrote that both issues were addressed, and Lijewski has not worked at the agency since 2017.

“Under new leadership, PWSA has the financial resources to appropriately invest in the water treatment plant and is working with the U.S. EPA to ensure that the Authority and its employees comply with all environmental laws.”

DOJ and EPA officials acknowledged PWSA leadership has changed significantly since 2017.

Martin Harrell, a criminal enforcement attorney with the EPA, said PWSA has been very cooperative.

“The investigation is continuing but we’re definitely looking at historical facts,” he said. “We’re not looking at something that we think is happening today.”

PWSA will fund a $500,000 compliance plan and will be on probation for three years.