Critics say OMYA permit is illegal

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(Host) A federal judge has ruled that chemicals leaking from Omya’s landfills in Pittsford could threaten human health.

But the state is close to granting Omya a permit that would allow the company to keep operating the waste site for two more years.

A whistleblower at the state Agency of Natural Resources says the permit is illegal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) A group called Residents Concerned About Omya filed suit to challenge the company’s practice of dumping its rock waste into three unlined quarries.

Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier found that a chemical linked to birth defects is leaking from the site. The chemical is known as AEEA, and it’s used by Omya as it processes the rock into pure calcium carbonate. And while AEEA hasn’t been found in drinking water wells, Niedermeier said it’s a threat to the environment and human health.

David Mears is a professor at Vermont Law School who argued the case with the help of the school’s environmental law clinic.

(Mears) “It’s clear that placing chemically contaminated waste in unlined pits in direct contact with ground water is not a good idea. And Omya needs to set a clear deadline by which they’ll have another alternative for their waste disposal.”

(Dillon) Omya has used its old quarries for the rock waste for 30 years. The state Agency of Natural Resources is close to finalizing a permit that would allow the company to continue the practice for another two years.

Laura Pelosi is the state’s commissioner of environmental conservation. She said the company will have to monitor the site to track any movement of the chemical.

(Pelosi) “We are requiring that Omya implement a very stringent series of monitoring protocols. We have developed in conjunction with the Department of Health and the independent consultants the first drinking water standard in the country for AEEA, which is an additional safety net that we’ve built around that particular facility.”

(Dillon) But a state employee who works in the solid waste program says officials have ignored state law in drafting the solid waste permit. John Brabant testified recently at a public hearing. He stressed he was speaking for himself, not the Agency of Natural Resources.

(Brabant) “The path taken to get to these end points is not only wrong, it’s absolutely illegal. And the only way we get here tonight and have a public meeting on it at great taxpayer expense is by the staff of the program being asked by the secretary to ignore important parts of the statute.”

(Dillon) Brabant said the state should instead bring an enforcement case against Omya for operating unlined landfills without a permit.

But Cathy Jamieson, who heads the state’s solid waste division, disagreed. She said the state took years to decide that Omya’s operations were covered by solid waste laws.

(Jamieson) “Was it an egregious violation, as Mr. Brabant says? I would say, `No,’ because it wasn’t even clear to us whether or not this activity needed a permit. As soon as we made the determination that this activity needed a permit, Omya submitted an application for a permit, and we’ve been working toward issuing that permit since.”

(Dillon) Omya says it’s reduced the chemicals used in its manufacturing. It also is building a facility to take the water out of the waste before it’s dumped in the landfills.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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