New signs along Sewickley Creek send a warning

Mountain Watershed Association and Yukon community members installed two informational warning signs on the banks of Sewickley Creek, near the permitted discharge point of MAX Environmental Technologies Landfill #6 on Saturday, March 16. This marks the first time the general public – and particularly the fishing community – will see signs informing them that the hazardous waste facility discharges into the creek. 

The signs were placed at the outfall and downstream of it, detailing several hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, cyanide, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, that are permitted for discharge there. 

MAX Environmental’s Yukon plant is the only facility in Pennsylvania that offers permitted RCRA Subtitle C (hazardous) waste treatment. The facility’s residual waste landfill is permitted to accept a wide range of materials from fracking, construction, and manufacturing industries, as well as from metal contaminated waste site cleanups. 

This facility has a long history of compliance violations, including improper handling of hazardous waste, unlawful solid waste dumping and leaking containment boxes. For 2,018 days in January 2007-March 2024 MAX exceeded the recommended amounts for fecal coliform, ammonia, chlorine, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, aluminum, and more. Collectively that is over 5 years of hazardous pollution entering Sewickley Creek.

Sewickley Creek is a popular place for residents of Yukon and nearby communities to recreate, pursuing on-water activities like boating and fishing. The creek runs around the town, past Yukon Lions Park, which has a ballfield and kayak launch, and ultimately into the Youghiogheny River. 

Community organizers from Mountain Watershed Association, which has been holding monthly community meetings in Yukon, suggested that a sign be placed near the discharge to inform residents of potential chemical hazards there. MWA organizers proposed the signage in response to community concerns and worked with residents to develop the contents of the warnings.

“Yukon area residents have been involuntarily exposed to hazardous waste in their backyards for decades,” says Stacey Magda, Managing Organizer for MWA. “For far too long those who live near MAX Environmental have been left in the dark regarding compliance issues and just what is looming beyond the chain link fences, in the leachate, in the air, and in the nearby waterways.

“Their concerns have not been taken seriously. MWA has been working to support those individuals to ensure their voices are heard and they are aware of what their rights are. Considering the severity of issues noted in recent Notice of Violations from the EPA and DEP these signs are a small step in the right direction to ensure that residents of Yukon and users of Sewickley Creek are educated and aware of potential hazards in Sewickley Creek.”

To install the signs, MWA navigated local signage rules and ultimately needed to apply for an ordinance change that would allow them to install signage. Ultimately, with the help of committed community members and Sewickley Township staff and supervisors, the signage was approved for installation. 

Thanks to the community members, MWA staff, and township supervisors, for their hard work on this project that will hopefully provide useful information to everyone who recreates, fishes, and lives along Sewickley Creek.

(MAX Environmental Hazardous & Residual Waste Landfill operates under NPDES Permit #PA0027715.)