Allegheny River polluter cops plea in sludge ‘island’ case

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By Eric Freedman

Tasmania, the Australian island-state, was named to honor 17th century Dutch explorer and seafarer Abel Tasman.

Baffin Island in the Arctic, the largest island in Canada, was named to honor 17th century English navigator William Baffin, who unsuccessfully sought the Northwest Passage.

The British territory of Bermuda, in the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina Coast, was named to honor Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez.

As for “Glenn’s Island” in the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, that’s another story.

It was an island, of sorts, formed of sludge illegally discharged from the nearby Aspinwall Drinking Water Plant. And some plant employees nicknamed it for retired supervisor Glenn Lijewski, who is awaiting sentencing for conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act.

The plant provides drinking water for residential, commercial and industrial customers in the city and some nearby communities.

The nickname wasn’t intended as a tribute to Lijewski, who pleaded guilty to the charge and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he appears in front of U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV on Aug. 16. Prosecutors dropped two other related charges as part of Lijewski’s plea deal.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh said in a news release that he and another supervisor, James Paprocki, illegally discharged sludge directly into the river in violation of the Aspinwall’s federal permit. Paprocki, who pleaded guilty earlier, is set for sentencing on July 21.

Lijewski also ordered Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority employees to discharge sludge into the river, the prosecution said, and he submitted false reports about the amount of sludge the Aspinwall facility was sending to a waste treatment plant.

Violations happened “multiple times a year since at least 2015,” according to the grand jury indictment and EPA attorney Martin Harrell.

“Plumes of discolored water and solids, including anthracite coal used in the filters, were visible in the Alleghany River,” the indictment said. “The discharges also contained ferric chloride, a water treatment chemical, which had a distinctive rust color due to its iron content.”

Aspinwall employees saw a discolored flume of sludge stretching hundreds of feet from the plant into the river, according to the indictment.

Harrell said toxic materials weren’t found in the sludge.

As for “Glenn’s Island” and the sludge plume, they’ve disappeared, washed downstream by the Allegheny River’s strong currents, he said.

Harrell said he can’t speculate on Lijewski’s motives, adding that the public court documents don’t address that question.

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