On Sunday, December 30th, residents along Cowell Lane at the border between Conshohocken and Plymouth Township reported a loud noise and bad odor. The origin of the noise was quickly established as emanating from the Covanta trash to steam plant that is off located of Alan Wood Road (across from IKEA). The plant has operated since 1992.
The noise was the result of a malfunction of the boilers. According to James Regan of Covanta, who we spoke with today, the malfunction resulted in the release of steam to relieve pressure built up within the system (which is a normal safety measure). Regan states that this release of steam went through the normal emissions control process.
While this was happening, several people on social media mentioned an odor. In regards to the odor, Regan stated that Covanta does not believe it originated from its plant. He stated that only steam was released and the steam was odorless (as it is with every release).
The personnel at the plant self-reported the incident to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). We asked the DEP for a statement on the issue and received the following:
Covanta emailed DEP on 12/31, providing notification of a voluntary plant shutdown on Sunday, 12/30. In that notification, Covanta indicated that it was aware that nearby residents noticed a petrochemical smell in the air around the same time as the shutdown and associated it with the Covanta Plymouth facility. Covanta stated that it did not believe the petrochemical odor observed by the residents was associated with Covanta Plymouth operations. Covanta informed DEP that additional information will be submitted by January 4th. No complaints were made directly to DEP regarding odors.
So what caused the odor? According to Regan, Covanta spent part of today looking in the area around its plant (beyond its own property) for a source that could have generated the smell. He noted that there are several industrial uses in that area.
We contacted the Norristown Serwer Authority today and asked if the smell could have been caused by its facility. We received a reply that it did not have any issues on December 30th.
We also contacted Plymouth Township and received an acknowledgment. Township Manager Karen Weiss was going to look into the matter and get back to us. She stated she knew about the sound issue, but not the odor.
More to come.