Permit required for Omya waste

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(Host) A state environmental official has ruled against the Omya Corporation in a dispute over its mining waste. Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeff Wennberg says the rock waste is contaminated with chemicals and may pose a threat to public health and safety.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Omya uses giant rock-crushers to extract calcium carbonate ore at its plant in Pittsford. It dumps the left-over material in an old quarry nearby.

The ruling released on Friday means Omya will now have to get a permit for the mining waste. Jim Reddy runs Omya’s U.S. operations.

(Reddy) “Obviously, we’re disappointed with the results but we’re not surprised by them, and trying to be pro-active and anticipating the decision. We’ve been working for many months now with ANR personnel also, working with them to make sure we get the correct data and can apply for a permit.”

(Dillon) State environmental regulators have gone back and forth on the question of whether the mining waste was exempt from state oversight. In 2002, state environmental officials decided Omya didn’t need a permit to dispose of the waste. Then a year later, the state reversed itself and said the waste contained chemicals that could threaten public health.

Omya asked for reconsideration. And in the latest ruling, Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said that the company’s rock waste is not exempt from the state’s solid waste rules. In his decision, Wennberg said he was concerned that chemicals in the waste could leach into groundwater.

But Reddy from Omya says the nearby wells are safe.

(Reddy) “All of the sampling of all of the wells and all the drinking water supplies off of our site not only meet the drinking water standards, no chemicals associated with any of our processes has ever been detected.”

(Dillon) But Pittsford residents are concerned that chemical contaminants in the waste could eventually pollute their groundwater. Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, has pushed the state on the waste issue.

(Smith) “The state has been lax in holding this particular corporation accountable. Other businesses have to comply with these laws. Omya has been allowed to continue to dump contaminated waste into groundwater for a year and a half without a permit. It is time for the state to do its job and enforce the law, which means either Omya stops dumping its waste until they have a permit or some enforcement action is taken.”

(Dillon) Commissioner Wennberg was out of the office and not available for comment. A state environmental official said the ruling means Omya has to get a permit. But the official said Omya does not have to stop its waste disposal while its permit application is pending.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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