Update on Covanta Complaints from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

The below email from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was sent to those who filed a complaint in regards to the odor that was reported by numerous people in Conshohocken and Plymouth Meeting on June 11th.

The new information is that the investigation is looking at the Covanta plant’s electrical system. The complete email is below:

Good afternoon,
I’m writing in response to the complaint that you submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pertaining to the odors that you experienced in the Conshohocken/Plymouth Meeting area on June 11, 2019.  Thank you for bringing your concerns and odor issue to the attention of DEP.  It is part of our mission to provide for the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens. 

Upon receipt of complaints from area residents on June 11, 2019, DEP, Plymouth Township Code Enforcement, Plymouth Township Fire Marshals, and members of the Plymouth Fire Co. conducted extensive surveillance of the surrounding area and made inquiries at multiple facilities upwind of the odors, including the Covanta Plymouth trash-to-steam plant (Covanta Plymouth). 

DEP detected the odors you referenced in the Cardinal View neighborhood and at Colwell Park. DEP representatives did not detect the odor onsite while visiting Covanta Plymouth Tuesday morning.  During a second visit to the plant on Tuesday afternoon, two DEP representatives detected faint electrical burning odors close to the facility’s electrical transformer.  The odors were similar to those detected in the area from which the complaints were received. 

Covanta Plymouth experienced an electrical malfunction the morning of June 10, 2019 that forced the facility to initiate an emergency shut down. During a conference call between DEP and Covanta Plymouth on June 12, 2019, Covanta provided details pertaining to Monday’s shut down and subsequent start-up.  The plant began powering back up on June 10, 2019 from 9:30 PM – 11:30 PM.  During the time in which most of the complaints were received by DEP and other agencies, the facility was not incinerating trash.  Incinerator #1 was in a heating up phase between 2:32 AM and 12:30 PM on June 11, 2019.  Incinerator #2 was in a heating up phase between 2:53 AM and 5:00 AM on June 12, 2019.  Both incinerators were cleaned out of all waste prior to initiating start-up. 

Since Covanta Plymouth was not incinerating trash at the time the majority of complaints were received, DEP requested them to further investigate their electrical system to determine if it may have caused the odors and suggested conducting an odor survey if necessary.  DEP requested detailed information about the cause of the shut-down and repairs made to bring the plant back online.  DEP also requested the facility submit their emission data to demonstrate that there were no excess emissions from the incinerators.

Covanta is currently performing a root cause analysis for the electrical malfunction. The facility agreed to provide DEP a schedule detailing how they will investigate the electrical malfunction and any potential sources of odors by the end of the week and to submit their emission data when it has been compiled. 

The facility’s waste incinerator is not believed to be the source of the odors detected on June 11, 2019 since the units were not burning trash during the time that most odor complaints were received.  Unfortunately, we found no evidence to definitively identify the source of the odors but will continue to investigate. 

DEP, Plymouth Township Code Enforcement, Plymouth Township Fire Marshals, and members of the Plymouth Fire Co. are working hard together to find the cause of the odors and prevent future problems from occurring.  Thank you again for the bringing the issue to our attention.  We will contact you with an update when more information is available and a report regarding the details of DEP’s investigation will be available when the investigation concludes. 

If you observe issues again, please complete the complaint form at the website below or contact us at 484-250-5991.



Jillian Gallagher l Air Quality Environmental Group Manager
Department of Environmental Protection
Southeast Regional Office
2 East Main Street | Norristown, PA 19401