Covanta Announces Plan to Address Recent Malfunctions. PA DEP Issues Notice of Violation

This morning Covanta provided its plan to address the recent malfunctions at its plant in Conshohocken (Plymouth Township). If you aren’t familiar, the plant burns trash and in turn produces electricity.

Since December 2018, there have been a series of malfunctions at the plant that have brought attention to its operation. After each malfunction, there has been a loud noise (which is expected and proper) from the release of steam and an odor that has led to public complaints. Covanta has claimed after each malfunction, until the one this week, that the smell was not from the plant.

Before we get to Covanta’s plan, we want to provide the text of an email the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection sent to those who made a complaint, along with the Notice of Violation (download here) it sent to Covanta.

Here is the text of the email from the Department of Environmental Protection:

On 10/15/19 at 2am, Covanta Plymouth had an unplanned shutdown when the facility had a total loss of power due to a malfunction of the main electrical breaker.  During this event, steam was released (as designed for safety purposes) and caused a loud noise which many of you heard.  After the loss of power, in order to terminate combustion of the waste, operators immediately extinguished the fires in the units using plant fire hoses.  This caused fugitive emissions (smoke) to emanate from the building and likely caused the odors many of you detected.

DEP and Covanta Plymouth discussed the 10/16/19 event yesterday and their plans to prevent this type of event in the future.  Covanta Plymouth is currently investigating short-term and long-term options for any potential future loss of power from the plant.  The chosen option may include back-up controls or back-up power in order to maintain usage of their control devices.  Covanta Plymouth agreed to keep DEP informed about their plans as their evaluation progresses.
Covanta Plymouth regained plant power at approximately 1 AM on 10/16/19.  Unit 1 began heating up at 8:41 AM and waste was introduced at 2:50 PM on 10/16/19.  Unit 2 began heating up around 8:20 PM on 10/16/19 and waste was introduced at around 8:08 AM on 10/17/19. 

DEP received a number of odor complaints Wednesday evening (10/16/19).  A member of DEP’s emergency response team was dispatched and detected a burning plastic odor in several locations.  The majority of the complaints appear to be around the time that Unit 2 began heating up therefore we have asked Covanta to investigate possible causes of this.
DEP issued Covanta Plymouth a Notice of Violation for the events which occurred on 10/15 and 10/16/19 yesterday (see attached). 
Covanta Plymouth uses continuous emission monitors and annual source testing (which tests multiple pollutants) to show compliance with their emission limits during normal operation.  DEP cannot definitively say what Covanta’s emissions were during the 10/15/19 event because of the upset system.  If you are experiencing symptoms or are concerned about your health, we urge you to follow-up with your healthcare provider. 

We are taking these events very seriously and will ensure Covanta investigates the incident and finds a solution to this problem.  Thank you for your diligence in reporting to DEP the odors/events you experienced so we could respond appropriately. 

And here is the statement and plan from Covanta:

Action Plan Following Recent Power Outage at Covanta Plymouth

October 18, 2019 – Covanta understands the concerns from the community surrounding recent events at the Covanta Plymouth Energy-from-Waste facility. We recognize that this may have been disruptive to members of the community and we sincerely apologize.
We have had a history of compliant operations in this community over the past 27 years. We recognize that regaining the community’s trust from these recent events will not happen overnight. Our top priority is conducting our businesses in an environmentally-responsible way and we are committed to ensuring that our high operating standards are upheld. We hope that our actions moving forward will demonstrate our commitment to the community. 

The following is a list of the immediate action steps we are taking.
Improvements and Investigation

Starting on Sunday, October 27, we will be shutting down each combustion unit one at a time for investigation and maintenance.

During this period, we will:

* Further inspect the main electrical system that led to the power failure on October 15.
* Replace mufflers on roof top steam vents to reduce noise impacts when the plant has a shutdown or steam release event.
* Inspect other equipment in the plant and perform maintenance activities as necessary.
* Monitor for odors during the startup and shutdown of the combustion units.

Enhanced Preparedness

We are also making efforts to be better prepared should events like a power outage happen again.

We are:

* Investigating a reliable on-site alternate/backup power source that would be used if the plant suffers a complete loss of power. Power would be used to operate fans and ancillary equipment at those times. 
* Reviewing and evaluating all shutdown and startup procedures during loss of power events.

Transparent Communication

We have made recent improvements to increase our transparency and communication effectiveness. We are going to further this initiative through a new dedicated webpage, community hotline and the posting of continuous emissions monitoring data online.

Should any neighbors have concerns or questions, please call the 24-hour hotline at 610-569-9372 or visit

More to come.