(Host) A state environmental official says the possibility of groundwater pollution led him to change his mind about a waste permit for the Omya Corporation in Pittsford. Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg recently reversed himself and ruled that Omya does need a state permit to dump mining waste. Local residents have been concerned that trace chemicals in the waste could contaminate their drinking water.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says that he learned from the Health Department that the chemicals Omya uses in its rock-crushing operation may be dangerous. The chemicals, including acetone and a substance known as tall oil, are found in the rock waste that Omya has placed in an old quarry. The chemicals have also shown up in monitoring wells nearby.
Omya wants to expand the waste storage to create a 32-acre pile of mine tailings. Wennberg had initially decided that the project did not need a solid waste permit. But after he talked to the Health Department, Wennberg says he changed his mind. He says he wanted to know at what level was the tall oil a potential health risk.
(Wennberg) “And they came back with a number that was sufficiently low, based on monitoring well results, to cause us to think that the threshold of may pose a risk to human health had been crossed. So a permit now appeared to be necessary, where before the exemption would appear to apply.”
(Dillon) Wennberg says he’s decided Omya’s existing waste pile needs to be reviewed under solid waste regulations. Omya has stored the rock waste material in an abandoned quarry for years.
(Wennberg) “The concern is essentially the same. So we believe this should apply to the entire site, at least that portion where the tailings management has historically been done or is proposed to be done.”
(Dillon) Steven Thompson is Omya’s plant manager in Pittsford. He says the company is ready to work with the state on the permit issues.
(Thompson) “We’re a little bit disappointed in what the ruling was as it came out. However, we do share the commissioner’s concerns about the environment. So I think our next move is to assemble our team and sit down with the commissioner and understand fully what he said and what the next steps might be.”
(Dillon) Wennberg did give Omya one piece of good news. The commissioner has decided that the state’s $6 a ton solid waste tax should not apply to Omya’s waste rock pile.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.