IBM water permit draws fire from environmental groups

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(Host) The state Agency of Natural Resources holds a hearing Wednesday on a water pollution permit for IBM’s manufacturing plant in Essex. Several environmental groups say that the permit is too lenient, and that it allows the computer company to dump tons of waste into the Winooski River. IBM says its wastewater meets all state and federal standards.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) IBM is Vermont’s largest private employee, with more than 7,000 employees at its Essex plant. The computer giant sends its treated wastewater into the Winooski River, and its pollution control permit is now up for renewal.

Several environmental organizations say the permit allows too much pollution in the river. Rob Moore is with the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Moore) “We want to see more protective effluent limits put into place for toxic heavy metals like lead and nickel and cadmium, that will comply with water quality standards that will ensure the protection of the Winooski River and downstream waters like Lake Champlain.”

(Dillon) IBM is legally allowed to release waste into the river under longstanding permit conditions. Moore says the proposed water quality permit essentially keeps the same limits as the previous ones.

IBM spokesman Jeff Couture says the company prides itself on its environmental quality.

(Couture) “And we routinely meet or exceed tough permit requirements. We do not negatively impact water quality. We are not hurting plants, fish or other aquatic life. We are not impacting drinking water. The proposed permit limits are based on state and federal guidelines that are protective of human health and the environment.”

(Dillon) State officials have expressed concern that IBM could leave Vermont if it’s frustrated with permit requirements. However, the environmentalists say the company faces more stringent pollution control limits at its main manufacturing plant in New York state.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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