You’ve probably heard the stereotype of the big company that pollutes the local environment in its endless quest for more profits.
Fortunately for Wyoming County, Procter & Gamble has spent the past half century taking an active role in ensuring that this does not happen at its Mehoopany plant.
Last week a team of biologists from Stroud Water Research Center waded into the Susquehanna River looking for macroinvertebrates.
Stroud was contracted by Procter & Gamble to test the water around its Mehoopany plant.
Biologists from Stroud tested at four different sites July 25-27, one upriver, two near the plant, and one downriver from the plant. They then compare the results from above and below the plant to see the kind of impact, if any, it is having on the health of the Susquehanna.
“We use macroinvertebrates because they’re good indicators of water quality,” said Jan Battle, a Stroud biologist who tested the Susquehanna for P&G last week.
“Certain insects demonstrate good conditions,” explained Battle.
Mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are the most sensitive to pollution, and would be the first to disappear if the Susquehanna were polluted.
Like a canary in a coal mine, the presence of these insects speaks to the health of the river.
“Basically if you can find these groups, you know you have good conditions,” Battle said.
Stroud Water Research Center is located in Avondale. It has been testing the Susquehanna for Procter & Gamble since 1974.
The Susquehanna River is important to the operations at the plant, and was actually the reason Procter & Gamble chose to build a plant in Mehoopany. However, P&G understands that it is not the only one in the are to whom the Susquehanna plays an important role.
“They’re really good about treating their effluent,” said Battle, who has been testing the river for P&G with Stroud for years. Effluent is an outflow or discharge of liquid waste.
P&G has a wastewater treatment facility which returns water to the river in a cleaner state than it is sometimes found, according to site public relations manager Alex Fried.
The company has had the water tested annually around the Mehoopany plant since before the plant was built in 1966, when Dr. Ruth Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences did a fairly thorough accounting of species around the plant site.
The results of the annual studies have never found a negative impact on the health of the river.
Procter & Gamble has the water tested every year as an exercise of good faith to the local community. For the first 25 years it was not required by any local, state, or federal law to do so.
While now the testing is a part of the company’s wastewater permit with the state, P&G would still have the testing done regardless, according to Fried.
“It’s a part of our history,” he said.
“If I lived here, I’d be happy to know that such a big company cares about the local environment,” Battle said. “Not all of them do.”
As to the overall quality of the river, both up and downstream from the plant, Battle says it has improved remarkably since the 1970s. She mentioned that among the groups of indicator insects, Stroud’s research now finds 120 species where it used to find 60.
“If you’re doubling your diversity, that’s a really good sign,” Battle said.
“We come out here every year and we are still finding new taxa,” said Stroud biologist Michael Broomall as he carefully picked up a stonefly with his tweezers and placed it into a vial to bring back to the lab.
Although the official results of last week’s study won’t be available for a few weeks, according to Broomall, “you can tell right away we have a healthy level of diversity here.”