Plastic Recycling Plant Could Sending Toxic Chemicals in the Susquehanna River

Warnings that a large-scale plastics recycling plant planned along a floodplain in Central Pennsylvania could flush toxic PFAS into the Susquehanna River, a major source of drinking water for millions, are stirring a budding opposition movement.

The Houston-based startup company Encina, which proposes to build the $1.1 billion advanced recycling plant in Northumberland County, says it will not produce any of the synthetic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in its manufacturing process. The industry uses the term “advanced’’ to include recycling processes that convert plastic

waste into chemical ingredients for new plastic products or fuel.
But Graham F. Peaslee, a professor of physics at Notre Dame University who researches PFAS and plastic, said that PFAS would “absolutely” be a “serious issue” for a recycling operation that washes vast quantities of post-consumer plastic and discharges the wastewater into a river, as Encina plans to do. Some of that plastic waste would likely be coated in PFAS, he said, and some of them would escape from the plastic during the washing stage and get into the river.

The result could be trouble for drinking water systems downstream from the proposed Encina plant, said Peaslee, a co-author of a recent study that detected PFAS in an entire class of commonly used plastic containers. “I suspect somewhere downstream, some utility will find that water is not a great source of drinking water,” he said.

By James Bruggers