A New Jersey-based company whose job was to clean up was recently convicted of dumping wastewater into a creek that empties into the Monongahela River.
Professional Mobile Cleaning Inc. (PMC) pleaded guilty in Pittsburgh federal court to repeated violations of the Refuse Act, which prohibits the dumping of pollutants into navigable waters except by permit.
The U.S. Postal Service had contracted the mobile truck-washing business to clean commercial vehicles in Allegheny County, and to collect and dispose of all wash water used in the cleaning process. The court found that from June 20, 2007, to June 20, 2010, PMC failed to properly dispose of the wastewater.
In a written statement, Margaret Philbin of the U.S. Department of Justice said the company discharged, "vehicle wash water from the grounds of the United States Postal Service carrier annex in Irwin, Pa, into Tinkers Run Creek, which flows into and is a tributary of Brush Creek, which flows into and is a tributary of Turtle Creek, which flows into and is a tributary of the Monongahela River, a navigable water of the United States."
Brush Creek flows into Turtle Creek just below the section that is stocked with trout. The chronic dumping of waste that reached the Mon came at a sensitive time.
"In the Monongahela, we were seeing good populations of less tolerant fish," said Denny Tubbs, an aquatic education specialist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "So when you have an issue like this, it's kind of heartbreaking because we were gaining so much and had a setback. All of a sudden you have a hit like this and it sets you back a couple of years."
PMC agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution to the U.S. Postal Service, and a $9,000 criminal fine. The company was also required to pay $191,000 to the Fish and Boat Commission to fund a community service project to address water quality issues in the Monongahela River.
The pollutants dumped by PMC can impact fish and their habitat, even when diluted or absorbed. Tubbs said many factors determine how toxins could affect each species. Trout are sensitive to toxins, but catfish, which can live out of the water for hours, can handle higher toxin levels. Pike-family predators do not take toxins well, and panfish and smaller fish that are closer in the food chain to macro-invertebrates and plant life can not tolerate the presence of toxins.
"If you talk to anglers, fishing is getting better on the river with more diverse fish species than we've had in a long time, then something like this knocks a hole in the food chain," Tubbs said. "The river will come back, but it's going to affect us for a couple of years. That's why we've got to keep an eye on the rivers."
Eddy Montalvo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 305-812-7237.