Scranton Sewer Authority - Scranton - Pennsylvania Settlement

(Washington, DC - December 13, 2012) - WASHINGTON – The United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced today a settlement with the Scranton Sewer Authority (SSA) resolving alleged Clean Water Act violations involving sewer overflows to the Lackawanna River and its tributaries.

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Overview of Sewer Authority and Facility Location

The Scranton Sewer Authority (SSA), located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, owns and operates a combined sewer system, including one waste water treatment plant (WWTP).

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SSA violated Sections 301, 402 and 504 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System(NPDES) permit. SSA’s alleged violations include frequent discharges of raw sewage, industrial waste, nutrients, and storm water discharges (i.e. combined sewer overflows (CSOs)) to the Lackawanna River, (and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay watershed), and operation and maintenance failures that have resulted in combined sewer overflows.

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Injunctive Relief

The proposed Consent Decree (Decree) will require SSA to implement remedial measures intended to eliminate a substantial percentage of CSOs from the SSA’s sewer system through its long term CSO control plan (LTCP). The plant upgrades included in the LTCP are also intended to bring SSA into compliance with the nutrient limits (for nitrogen and phosphorous) in its current NPDES permit that go into effect in October 2012. When the injunctive relief is implemented, the settlement is expected to help reduce direct exposure of raw sewage to low income populations in SSA’s service area. The remedial measures include:

  • upgrades to the WWTP
  • improvement in operations and maintenance both within the sewage collection system and at the WWTP construction of storage facilities, including: (1) “box culverts,” which comprises a relatively low-tech distributed storage solution that entails replacing dozens of sections of small, round sewer pipe with much larger, square box culverts; and (2) pre-cast, above-ground storage tanks where much larger storage capacity is needed.
  • Agreement by SSA to purchase nutrient credits for an amount up to $100,000 if, by October 1, 2014, it is not in compliance with its annual nutrient effluent limitations set forth in its NPDES permit for the compliance period ending on September 30, 2014.

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Environmental Justice

Some of the geographic areas (which are adjacent to the Lackawanna River, a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay) and favorably impacted by early pollutant reductions resulting from the settlement include communities affected by environmental justice concerns. Specifically, much of the reduction in CSO overflow volume will be achieved at the end of 2014, when an expansion of the SSA’s WWTP will increase its throughput to 46 million gallons per day (MGD)plus an additional 14 MGD through primary treatment and disinfection. The expansion of the WWTP alone will increase the percentage of combined sewage captured and treated by the WWTP from 48 percent to 68 percent.

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Green Infrastructure

  • SSA also has committed to undertake a study to evaluate the feasibility of implementing Green Infrastructure (GI) measures as part of its CSO controls from the collection system. Upon completion of the study, SSA has the option to evaluate GI as a basis of a future LTCP amendment (and Decree modification) to in order substitute GI for the remedy currently embodied in the LTCP.

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Pollutant Reductions

  • 22,264 pounds of total suspended solids
  • 55,566 pounds biological oxygen demand
  • 1,761,446 pounds of chemical oxygen demand
  • 444,000 pounds of total nitrogen
  • 40,000 pounds total phosphorus

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Health and Environmental Effects

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) – TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen. 
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) – BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive. 
  • Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) – COD is a measure based on the chemical decomposition of organic and inorganic contaminants, dissolved or suspended in water. As with BOD, high levels of COD indicate high levels of pollutants are present in the wastewater that will consume oxygen from the water, and may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.
  • Nutrients - Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. These blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

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Civil Penalty

SSA will pay a civil penalty of $340,000, with 50 percent going to the United States and 50 percent going to Pennsylvania. SSA will make two payments to each plaintiff, a first set of installments of $100,000 each within 30 days following entry and a second set of installments of $70,000 each six months later.

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State Partner

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a co-plaintiff.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Sushila Nanda
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-4088
Sushila Nanda (nanda.sushila@epa.gov)

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