Court: PPG Industries Liable for Toxic Pollution from Glass Plant

A judge has ruled that PPG Industries Inc. is liable for toxic pollution that flowed for decades from its solid waste disposal area (SWDA) near its glass manufacturing plant in Ford City, PA, into the Allegheny River. On April 13, 2018, U.S. magistrate judge Robert Mitchell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion that PPG is liable under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act “because it contributed to the past disposal of waste at the SWDA which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”

The judge also dismissed PPG’s claim that another company, Eljer Inc., was partially liable for the pollution despite having a state permit to dispose of waste in the same area.

Relief issues related to PPG’s liability will be addressed in further proceedings, according to the opinion.

Background

The lawsuit, brought forth by PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club, has been ongoing since March 2012.

According to the judge’s opinion, PPG operated a sandstone quarry and sand plant in the area that later became the SWDA from 1900 to 1927. The company disposed of “off-spec” glass materials, construction debris, asbestos-coated material, municipal plant trash, packing materials and other debris there from the 1920s until 1967. The SWDA was not lined or covered after PPG stopped using the area for waste disposal.

The plaintiffs allege that the dumped material have discharged pollutants including “arsenic, chromium, lead, manganese, copper, zinc, mercury, antimony, barium, beryllium, iron, vanadium, aluminum, total dissolved solids or salts and semivolatile organic compounds, as well as waste with high or low levels of pH.”

The Opinion

Judge Mitchell’s opinion says that, “Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the conditions at the SWDA may pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment, including high pH seeps at the SWDA and metals contamination. As they observe, even PPG’s own expert, Dr. [Tim] Verslycke, [PPG’s ecological risk expert], has identified these risks, although he attempts to dispute the ultimate legal conclusion resulting therefrom, which is not his purview to address. As Plaintiffs observe, PPG took this same tack with respect to the high pH seeps at the SLA—it pointed to Dr. Verslycke’s opinion that such high pH seeps did not present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the environment—but the Court nevertheless found that the conditions may present an imminent and substantial endangerment, thereby implicitly rejecting the attempt to allow Dr. Verslycke to determine the ultimate legal issue in the case.”

In 2016, Vitro purchased the assets of PPG’s glass division, but the agreement did not include liability for the former Ford City glass plant.

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