State certifies Omya tailings plan
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | December 23,2009
PITTSFORD — Omya Inc. has received a draft certification to dispose of its chemically tainted calcium carbonate waste in a lined facility.
The state Agency of Natural Resources last week released a draft solid waste disposal facility certification that allows Omya to dispose of its marble waste in a lined facility on the company's property in the Florence section of Pittsford.
A public hearing on the draft certification is expected in mid-January.
The $1.5 million lined tailings management facility dovetails with the company's $10 million dewatering plant. The plant removes 85 percent to 90 percent of the water from the waste, which is pumped back into the plant for reuse.
The draft certification requires a single, high-density polyethylene double liner and leachate collection system. Omya is also required to conduct quarterly or semiannual monitoring of the tailings, leachate, groundwater, surface water and nearby drinking water supplies. The monitoring covers the existing unlined quarries, which are mandated for closure, and the new lined solid waste disposal facility.
The capacity of Phase 1 of the waste disposal facility is 802,500 tons, with a maximum capacity of 150,000 tons a year. If final certification is forthcoming, the lined facility would begin to accept material in the fall. Additional phases would be built in the same area.
According to the five-year certification, Omya estimates that it will generate an estimated 72,000 tons of tailings during the first year the lined disposal facility is in operation. Of that amount, Omya says 22,375 tons will be used for commercial purposes leaving less than 50,000 tons to be disposed of per year.
"We're certainly optimistic that at least for a portion of what we generate in 2010, that we can find end uses … based on feedback from some of the trials that are ongoing," said Michael Laurent, the plant's environmental manager.
Laurent said potential commercial uses include incorporating the tailings into the manufacture of cement, asphalt and brick pavers.
The draft certification is the result of a lengthy and sometimes contentious process between the company, neighbors and state that dates back several years.
Since the late 1970s, the company has disposed of marble waste or tailings from its calcium carbonate plant in three unlined quarries. But in recent years neighbors have raised concerns about possible chemical contamination of their drinking water as well as noise pollution and truck traffic.
Those concerns led to a state-mandated study that found that there was some groundwater contamination on Omya's property, including AEEA (aminoethylethanolamine), which one study found caused birth defects in laboratory rats. Although a spring and three private wells also were found to contain Omya-related chemicals, no drinking water wells have been contaminated.
The study, known as the Section 5 Study, concluded that the contamination posed no threat to human health or the environment. The multistakeholder study also concluded that any future risk was minimal.
Some neighbors of the plant recently lost a federal lawsuit that attempted to get Omya to take remedial action to clean up its existing waste.
David Mears, who represents Residents Concerned About Omya, said the draft certification is a good news, bad news story.
The good news, Mears said Tuesday, is that the state has finally recognized that a lined facility is necessary. He said the bad news is that it took the state six or seven years to come to that conclusion.
"Secondly, they're authorizing the company to put this lined facility basically on top of the existing unlined facility, which will leave all of the contaminated waste that's been disposed of over the last 30 years in place to contaminate groundwater," said Mears, director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.
But James Zurwilo of the Solid Waste Management Program said putting the lined disposal facility partially over the old waste site doesn't present a problem.
"I don't think it should make a difference one way or another," Zurwilo said.
He said the state remains convinced removing 30 years of tailings isn't practical and that the best option is leaving the waste where it is.
Under its interim solid waste certification issued last year, the state established a schedule for Omya to discontinue use of its settling ponds used to dewater the marble waste, as well as closing and covering the unlined Dolomite and Kane and Drake quarries, where the waste has been dumped.
In its draft certification, ANR noted that Omya discontinued the use of its settling ponds on Oct. 1 and closed its Dolomite quarry.
Omya obtained a $12.2 million letter of credit to ensure closure of the old quarries or tailings management areas. The letter of credit will be increased by $3.2 million to include future closure and post-closure costs related to Phase I of the lined waste disposal facility.