Novak Sanitary Landfill
Current Site Information
EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic)Pennsylvania
South Whitehall Township
EPA ID# PAD079160842
15th Congressional District
Last Update: January 2015
Valley Disposal Division of Novak Corporation
Current Site Status
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing the cleanup of the Novak Sanitary Landfill Superfund Site (Site), where a soil cap and an on-site leachate monitoring and collection system, were completed in September 2002. The cap was vegetated, and the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) will continue to maintain the landfill cap and collect groundwater data into the future. Landfill gas emissions are also monitored and will continue to be monitored. EPA conducted the first Five-Year Review for the Site in March 2006 and determined that the Site is protective of human health and the environment for the short-term. EPA expects the Site to be fully protective of human health and the environment when the groundwater cleanup goals are met, institutional controls are in place and operations and maintenance are continued. The second Five-Year Review was completed in May 2011 and determined that the Site remedy remains protective of human health and the environment for the short term. The third Five-Year Review is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
On December 11, 2014, EPA issued a proposed Explanation of Significant Differences (ESD) and opened a 30-day public comment period. The ESD proposed to modify the remedy selected in the 1993 ROD by removing the requirement to continuously pump leachate from the landfill, to eliminate the performance standard to pump leachate to a depth less than one foot, and to change the groundwater performance standard to the lower of either the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) non-zero Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) or the federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for that contaminant and further modifies the groundwater performance standard to include a cumulative risk assessment at the conclusion of the remedy. The 30-day public comment period has expired and no substantive comments were received during that time. The proposed ESD is currently in the process of being finalized.
The Novak Sanitary Landfill site occupies 65-acres in a residential community near Allentown. This privately owned landfill operated from the late 1950s until 1990. The landfill accepted demolition wastes in its abandoned quarry and later accepted municipal and industrial wastes. By 1972, the owner had obtained a solid waste permit from the state and was reportedly disposing organic wastes such as spent solvents and electroplating wastes that contained heavy metals. These organics were placed in trenches that, at the time, were newly excavated. In 1984, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PADER - now known as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection or PADEP) attempted to revoke the owner's permit because of various violations but was overruled by a state environmental board. By 1988, the last trench on the site was filled to capacity, and the owner only accepted small quantities of refuse.
Contamination from wastes threaten the environment because the landfill was poorly engineered. Because the landfill was not adequately covered, rain and surface water formed ponds throughout the site. These ponds mobilized contaminants in the decaying wastes. Because the landfill was not lined underneath, contaminants migrated into the groundwater. The landfill is located in a fractured limestone region, where groundwater can move through the bedrock rapidly and in unpredictable directions. About 17,300 people use 855 public and private wells within 3 miles of the site. Jordan Creek, located 1,000 feet south of the site, is used for recreation.
Site ResponsibilityCleanup of this site is the responsibility of federal, state, and local governments and also parties that EPA holds responsible for cleanup.
NPL Listing HistoryThis Site was proposed to the National Priorities List of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites requiring long-term cleanup action on January 22, 1987. The Site was formally added to the list on October 4, 1989, making it eligible for federal cleanup funds.
Threats and ContaminantsVolatile organic compounds (VOCs), including trichloroethylene (TCE) and vinyl chloride, plus heavy metals have been detected in groundwater and leachate near the disposal areas. Low levels of VOCs were detected in several residential wells off-site. A potential threat to people existed from coming into direct contact with contaminated soil or leachate from the site. A potential threat also existed from accidentally ingesting or inhaling the contaminated groundwater.
Contaminant descriptions and risk factors are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC.
EPA issued a formal Record of Decision (ROD) for the Site in 1993. The ROD outlined how the site would be cleaned up. The decision was based on a study funded by sixteen Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). The ROD called for retrofitting the landfill, including: fencing the Site to keep people out, capping the Site to keep rainwater out, venting the Site to prevent dangerous buildup of gases, installing wells to collect hazardous leachate, and monitoring groundwater on a regular basis to ensure that off-site home wells are not threatened by the Site.
EPA identified more than 50 local companies that sent wastes to the Site and requested that they contribute to the cost of the cleanup. In 1996, seven of those companies were determined to be small contributors ("de minimis"); these seven settled with EPA to pay a small, "fair-share" portion of cleanup costs.
Twenty PRPs did not present, in EPA's judgement, a good faith offer to clean up the Site. EPA issued a legal order to these 20 requiring them to design and carry out the required site work. The PRP group counter-sued parties that EPA was not pursuing for cleanup costs. As a result of these suits, four municipalities agreed to implement part of the remedy. The municipalities' work includes treating leachate collected from the site and collecting samples from homes that are still using well water.
Construction work to cap the landfill began in June 2000. The presence of more trash prompted a redesign of the cap to extend towards the fence line. The presence of rocks in the stormwater retention ponds also hampered the excavation progress. The cap of the landfill and the leachate collection system were completed in September 2002. The landfill gas monitoring network was also installed and is operating. The Responsible Parties continue to perform operations and maintenance at the site with EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's oversight.
Because waste remains in place at the Site, EPA performs a statutory review of the remedy every five years. The first Five-Year Review identified four issues at the Site that needed further investigation. Several actions were taken in response to the issues raised. The Annual Groundwater Monitoring Report now includes statistical analysis of groundwater. Also, additional passive gas vents and monitoring probes were constructed by the PRPs in 2008 to alleviate elevated detections of methane levels. An Environmental Covenant to implement institutional controls was drafted for signature. Finally, in 2008, the PRPs completed a small-scale pilot to optimize the Leachate Extraction System and began a full-scale pilot in 2009. The second Five-Year Review reported progress toward the resolution of the issues of the first Five-Year Review. A reduction of methane gas was shown and a Vapor Intrusion investigation determined that Vapor Intrusion was not occurring at the homes tested and is not an issue for the Site. The institutional controls for the Site, as set forth in the Record of Decision (ROD), were fully implemented when the Environmental Covenant was signed in 2011. The full-scale Leachate System Assessment pilot was completed and provided evidence that the shut-down of the Leachate Extraction System would be appropriate. EPA is in the process of finalizing an ESD to make it possible to properly shut down the Leachate Extraction System.