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Testimony of Jennifer O’Donnell
Ombudsman’s Investigation of the WTI Incinerator


September 23, 2000
East Liverpool, Ohio

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony today. I’m the Akron area director for Ohio Citizen Action, a statewide environmental organization with 150,000 members.

It is our position that WTI should not have been issued a permit to operate; that it’s permit once issued should have been revoked; and that a renewal permit should not be issued for the facility because of its location, its history of violations, its accident history and the potential for accidents. This morning I would like to address the facility’s violations and the role of the state and federal EPAs in enforcement and permit decisions.

In a letter to WTI on November 16, 1999, Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones wrote: "The hazardous waste violations that have occurred at Von Roll America, Inc.’s permitted facility located in East Liverpool, Ohio, concern me … numerous and serious violations of the state’s hazardous waste laws and the terms and conditions of the permit have been discovered at Von Roll’s facility during each inspection conducted since 1996. Also, many of these violations are repeat violations."

The violations include improper hazardous waste container management, receipt and treatment of hazardous waste not authorized under WTI’s permit, storage of incompatible wastes without proper safeguards, and inadequate response to leaking hazardous waste systems. The letter further states that storage tank fires at WTI appear to be the result of the "storage of reactive hazardous waste in these tanks in violation of the terms and conditions of the permit." Finally, the letter states that Ohio EPA has "observed a disturbing trend" by which WTI responds to Ohio EPA and abates violations more slowly than in the past.

On June 2, Region 5 sent a letter to WTI regarding the "number and serious nature of hazardous waste violations identified at your facility since at least 1996. Because of these violations, your facility has been classified as a ‘Significant Non-Complier.’" The letter urged WTI to reach agreement with Ohio EPA within 30 days.

It is my understanding that these findings and orders are now at Ohio EPA waiting for Director Jones to review and sign them. Maybe they will be signed before a year has gone by. Maybe not.

What we do know is that WTI has a history of ongoing violations that Ohio EPA has known about for four years now, and that previous enforcement actions (findings and orders and penalties) have not been enough to ensure the safety and health of the surrounding community.

Given inadequate enforcement by Ohio EPA, citizens might look to the permit process as their opportunity to seek protection.

According to U.S. EPA Region 5, U.S. EPA issued WTI’s RCRA permit in June, 1983. The permit took effect in 1985 and expired in 1995. WTI submitted a new permit application to Ohio EPA and Region 5 in 1994. Ohio EPA has yet to act on the permit application. In fact, the state did not intend to act on the permit application until 2002, but recently agreed to move "aggressively" (according to Region 5) forward with a decision next year. Maybe Ohio EPA will act next year, and maybe not. In the meantime, citizens will have waited six years for an opportunity to voice their concerns through the permit process.

What has the result been for the community? Years of inaction, a nightmare of non-enforcement, and no protection through the permit process, in clear violation of the intent of RCRA.

In the meantime, the terms and the conditions of WTI’s federally-issued permit continue in force until the effective date of the State of Ohio’s renewal or denial of the state-issued RCRA permit for WTI. That means the U.S. EPA has had (and continues to have) the authority to do something about WTI since it began operating eight years ago.

It is long past time for U.S. EPA to act. We submit that EPA has not ensured that WTI is in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the law, allowing the facility to continue to pose a danger to its neighbors. This facility continues to operate because every level of government has failed to act in the interest of the citizens. Mr. Martin, you have an opportunity to turn the tide by recommending that EPA act now to shut this facility down. I urge you to do so.

Thank you.

Attachments (not on-line):
November 16, 1999 letter from Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones
June 2, 2000 letter from Paul Little, Region 5, U.S. EPA