Covanta facility in Conshohocken receives Notice of Violation from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after power loss and resulting odor

Last week Covanta Plymouth in Conshohocken (Plymouth Township) was back on the minds of those living near the plant when the facility lost power and a strong odor spread throughout the area.

If you are not familiar with Covanta, it operates a “waste-to-energy” facility off Alan Wood Road near IKEA. If you live in the Borough of Conshohocken, Borough of West Conshohocken, and Plymouth Township, your trash is taken there and burned. The resulting process generates energy. Note that the facility has other clients, we were just pointing out the local municipalities covers.

As a result of last week’s incidents, neighbors commented on social media complaining about an odor. A few examples are below:

Called DEP after hours. Very sour smell. My young child started complaining of stomach pains with no obvious reason he would be having them.

Drove over to St. Benedict Cemetary on Colwell and smelled same reported sour smell, although it was faint. Wind direction straight from stack. Called DEP After-Hours hotline and spoke with answering service. Requested she convey message and tell field agent to head to cemetary, drive to back and take deep breath.

smoldering trash odor at 7:30pm.

strong burning plastic smell, called and reported at 1:45pm

Following up on complaints from those living in the area, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent an email describing what had occurred. From the email:

On Thursday April 6, 2023, Covanta Plymouth Renewable Energy (Covanta) notified the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality (DEP) of a shutdown on Unit 2 that would begin around 1:00 pm. Covanta later notified DEP that they lost complete plant power (while Unit 1 was operating) due to an electrical malfunction around 8:30 pm. Covanta confirmed that the fire in Unit 1 was extinguished by 10:30 pm and deployed the Fire Rover Gel Hopper Fugitive Emission Suppressant System to mitigate uncontrolled emissions. This system was installed by Covanta Plymouth as a result of the unplanned shutdown/black plant events in 2019. Power was restored to the plant on Friday evening, April 7 but the plant did not start processing waste again until Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Covanta indicated to DEP that they had teams of expert contractors onsite to inspect, repair and ensure the plant could successfully and safely restart.

The DEP’s personnel responded to the complaints on April 6th and 7th and confirmed the odor experienced in the surrounding neighborhood “were objectionable and coming from Covanta.

This incident resulted in an April 13th meeting between upper-level managers of both DEP and Covanta. According to the DEP, it emphasized the need for Covanta to “take additional precautions to prevent future events like this from happening.” Covanta was asked to provide DEP with its root cause investigation for the April 6th incident and its long-term plan to prevent future incidents within 30 days.

Following this meeting, the DEP issued Covanta a Notice of Violation (view) on Friday, April 14th for the violations determined during its investigation.

The DEP stressed that it “continues to monitor operations at Covanta and will ensure the facility identifies potential improvements to operations and equipment to help reduce the number and severity of unplanned shutdowns.”

If you experience an issue, the DEP asks you to contact them at (484) 250-5900 and indicate that it is an emergency. If the department receives a number of similar complaints, it will dispatch emergency response personnel. Callers are asked to provide as much information as possible including the time frame of the issue, description of odors, wind direction, etc. Covanta also has a 24-hour hotline for complaints at (610) 569-9372.

Note – An earlier version of this article stated that there was a fire. The fire that was extinguished was the controlled fire used to burn the trash.

Photo: Google