A controversial test program for dumping river dredge in mine pits, an issue that first surfaced more than 10 years ago, might be coming back to haunt the commonwealth.
According to documents filed by the Department of State, Pennsylvania apparently issued permits for statewide dumping of a mixture of fly ash and river dredge, based in part on a report issued by an individual who wasn't credentialed in the field.
The individual, Andrew Voros of New Jersey, was a key figure in the dumping of the mixture at a test site at Bark Camp, Clearfield County, starting in 1995.
A smaller test site, 2.5 acres, was established near Tamaqua in 2003. Called the Tamaqua Mine Reclamation Project on Mt. Pisgah, a mine pit was filled with 54,000 cubic yards of dredge material from the Delaware River.
But Voros's qualifications as an expert are now called into question.
In fact, Voros has until Thursday to respond to a legal Notice and Order to Show Cause, a move taken March 18 by Department of State Prosecuting Attorney David E. Ross.
The document, known as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs versus Andrew Voros, is a formal disciplinary action that outlines a series of alleged violations subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, and imposition of costs.
The action is being brought under the Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Law Act of December, 1990.
Specifically, the document alleges that Voros is "a person who holds no professional license as a geologist or as a professional engineer," yet took on responsibilities for the timing, number, placement and depth of the groundwater monitoring wells for the Bark Camp Demonstration Project.
Those facts are stated in the project report and through Voros's testimony at the Environmental Hearing Board, according to the document. The project report helped to establish protocol and form policy for the commonwealth's permitting process regarding the placement of river dredge and fly ash into mine pits.
Law not followed
At the Bark Camp site, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tested a mix of fly ash and material dredged from waterways and used it for mine fill.
A subsequent report of water and soil testing claims to have found no volatile organics, pesticides, PCBs, dioxins or metals other than those attributable to mine drainage. Later, when issuing a general permit to allow the mixture's use statewide, the DEP accepted the 2004 report, which was authored by Voros.
But a complaint was filed by Bob Gadinski, Butler Township, who accused Voros of practicing geology without a license.
Voros claims to hold a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in biology, according to the document. Voros is neither a geologist nor professional engineer in Pennsylvania.
"The law is the law," says Gadinski, of Ashland.
Pennsylvania law requires that all documents forming the basis to grant such permits have the stamp, or sign-off, of a certified geologist.
"Another geologist should have signed off. Nobody did," Gadinski asserts.
Gadinski is a hydrogeologist who worked for the DEP for 18 years. He worked in close association with Dante Picciano, Esq., and the Tamaqua-based Army for a Clean Environment, a watchdog group that led the fight against toxic dumping.
Gadinski also provides guidance for Hazleton-based SUFFER, or Saving Us From Future Environmental Risk. That group is fighting a similar dumping issue in lower Luzerne County.
Picciano has stood firm on the toxic dumping issue all along.
"It has taken almost five years, but the truth about the fly ash and river sludge dumping is finally beginning to surface," he says. He also recalls a comment made early in the controversy.
"I find it amusing that then-Gov. Ed Rendell told me that he could not do anything about the dumping because he was relying on his experts," says Picciano. "We had two licensed geologists as experts but Gov. Rendell refused to meet with us."
In December, 2010, Gadinski and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility asked the state auditor general's office to do a performance audit to determine whether the Department of State has been derelict in its duties.
The state replied several times that it lacked funds to hire an expert to investigate the complaint. Still, Gadinski was relentless. He eventually turned to Widener University Environmental Law Center to file a Motion for a Writ of Mandamus with the Commonwealth Court in order to get the Department of State to act on the complaint. A Writ of Mandamus is a last-resort judicial remedy.
With the state's Order to Show Cause, Gadinski's perseverance appears to have paid off.
Test results in question
Gadinski told the TIMES NEWS he feels that expert witness testimony offered on this issue may have been faulty in many respects. And if the Bark Camp report is inaccurate, the ramifications are being felt statewide.
"If the Bark Camp report was fraud, then we don't know what we've been putting out," Gadinski says.
Environmentalists say the use of a person not licensed to practice geology in Pennsylvania as the author of the Bark Camp Report would undermine the general permit to dump the mixture of fly ash and river dredge. That same permit was used to support waste dumping in Hazleton.
Gadinski also points out that Google Earth photographs appear to show that locations where fly ash and river dredge mixture were applied are not setting up like concrete, as was promised, but instead are eroding from the weather.
The dumping issue goes back to the Ridge Administration, then later, Rendell. The dredge dumping was done under the oversight of Kathleen McGinty, secretary, DEP.
The DEP has permitted the use of fly ash for more than two decades. But opponents question safety, saying it contains toxins such as mercury, arsenic and lead.
River dredge, too, is known to contain contaminants and toxins, say environmentalists.
Attempts to contact Voros for comment by email and phone were unsuccessful. He reportedly was working as an adjunct research scientist at Columbia University, but the listed phone number has been disconnected.
The Department of State's document was served to Voros in his capacity as executive director of the NY/NJ Clean Ocean & Shore Trust in New Brunswick, N.J.