Pittsford residents appeal Omyas waste permit
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER - Published: June 16, 2010

PITTSFORD – Neighbors of Omya’s calcium carbonate plant have appealed the company’s waste disposal permit to the state Environmental Court.

Lawyers representing Residents Concerned About Omya filed a notice of appeal of an Agency of Natural Resources decision last month granting Omya final certification for its tailings management waste site. ANR had issued a draft certification in December.

The permit requires Omya to dispose of its chemically tainted marble waste using a liner and leachate collection systems placed over the existing tailings.

For more than 30 years, the company has disposed of marble waste or tailings from its plant in unlined quarries on its property.

Several years ago some residents living near the plant in the Florence section of Pittsford became concerned about the possible effects of the waste on their drinking water and pressed for remedial action.

Levels of manganese, iron, perchlorate and AEEA (aminoethylethanolamine) have been found in groundwater below Omya’s site, along with naturally occurring arsenic. No Omya-related chemicals have found in drinking water.

A state-mandated study concluded that the waste posed no health or environmental threat and any future threat was minimal.

At the core of the residents’ appeal is the belief that in issuing the interim and final certification, the state violated its own law that treats groundwater as a public trust.

David Mears,who represents Residents Concerned About Omya, said Monday that the state is allowing Omya to put a new lined facility on top of the old waste “without doing sufficient work to remediate it or monitor it to ensure it doesn’t pose a risk.”

Although the state requires Omya to monitor the site, Mears said the monitoring requirements are insufficent. He said further studies should be done to determine whether the old waste should be removed. Mears acknowledged while that may not be feasible, putting the lined site over the old waste eliminates that as an option.

“We just haven’t fully understood, I think, all of the risks posed by it,” said Mears, director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

“It doesn’t make sense to just cap it with a permanent lined facility knowing that waste remains in contact with groundwater.”

Omya maintains that the site poses no threat. Company spokesman Linda Pleiman said while details of the residents’ appeal won’t be filed until later this month, the state issued the cerification following an in-depth and lengthy review.

“The state’s informed decision was determined by a comprehensive and independent scientific study that concluded that Omya’s operations do not pose a threat to human health or the environment,” Pleiman said in an e-mail from company headquarters in Cincinnati.

In addition, Pleiman said Omya’s tailings management area has received the required state Act 250 land use permit and Pittsford zoning permits. She said the District One Environmental Commission concluded in its June 2 decision that the project “represents an historically high level of protection of the state’s groundwater quality.”

Residents have already lost their legal battles in federal and state court. But Mears said much has been accomplished already in getting the state to regulate Omya’s waste. “It’s requring to them to put it into a lined disposal facility and that’s a big step forward,” he said.

Omya expects to spend $2 million to build the first of three sections of the tailings management area. The first section, according to the December draft certification document, has a capacity of 802,500 tons, with a maximum capacity of 150,000 tons a year.

The lined site dovetails with a completed $10 million dewatering facility that removes 85 percent to 90 percent of the water from the tailings, which is pumped back into the plant reuse.

The company said it continues to explore commercial uses for its waste byproduct.

The notice of appeal will be followed later this month by a more detailed filing with the court.