Company fined for polluting Monongahela River and tributaries

A truck washing company was recently fined after pleading guilty to illegally disposing of wash water into several tributaries of the Monongahela River. According to this press release from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission:

A Fairfield, New Jersey-based mobile truck washing business pleaded guilty to a one-count Information and was sentenced in federal court in Pittsburgh on its conviction of violating The Refuse Act, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced recently. United States District Judge Terrence F. McVerry accepted the guilty plea and imposed a sentence of $500,000 in restitution, fines and community service payments on Professional Mobile Cleaning, Inc., (PMC) on Nov. 29.

According to information presented to the court, PMC worked via contract with the U.S. Postal Service to wash commercial vehicles in Western Pennsylvania and to isolate, collect, store and eliminate all wash water involved in the cleaning process.  From June 20, 2007 to June 20, 2010, PMC failed to prevent discharge of and to reclaim wastewater effluent resulting from these vehicle washing services. The wastewater entered into several tributaries that fed the Monongahela River.

Under a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office, PMC agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution to the U.S. Postal Service and a $9,000 criminal fine. The plea agreement also required PMC to pay $191,000 to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) for a community service project to address water quality issues such as total dissolved solids in the Monongahela River. This payment will be deposited into a restricted revenue account within the PFBC Fish Fund.

I’m certainly no expert on “mobile truck washing,” but it seems to me that the proper disposal of wash water from a major commercial vehicle cleaning operation like this would probably cost more than $166,666 a year.

The Monongahela River, which flows north from West Virginia before joining the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has suffered a great deal in recent years. In 2009, contaminants in one of the river’s main tributaries led to the infamous Dunkard Fish Kill. In 2010, American Rivers named the Mon one of the ten “most endangered rivers” in the United States. In 2012, a large volume of acid mine discharge seeped into Ten Mile Creek, another major tributary of the river, in Clarksville, Pennsylvania.

Dissolved solids are a serious problem in the Monongahela River. Waste water from the now-widespread practice of fracking (or “hydraulic fracturing”) to release natural gas trapped deep in the Marcellus Shale contains extremely high concentrations of dissolved solids and poses further risks.

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