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WTI under fire

Ombudsman suggests halting operations at facility for at least six months, another trial burn

By CHERYL JOHNS

Review Staff Writer

EAST LIVERPOOL-- "My principal recommendation is that EPA and Ohio EPA restrict operations at the WTI facility immediately by (1) halting the feeding of waste to the incinerator for a period of less than six months; (2) making preparations for a retest of the trial burn or a new trial burn in 2001 as a necessary step before a new permit is issued next year and (3) with new data from the new trial burn, performing a new addendum to the risk assessment for the WTI facility."

Such was the no-nonsense recommendation by Robert J. Martin, national Ombudsman, in a report released to Environmental Protection Agency late Friday. The report, released to the media Saturday afternoon, was the culmination of several months of intensive review of documents both written and oral that Martin had requested. However, the EPA will follow Martin's recommendation to test WTI, but will not follow his suggestion to close it for six months.

According to EPA Assistant Administrator Timothy Fields Jr., the EPA is taking the following steps immediately. First, the EPA will deploy its Environmental Response Team from Edison, N.J, as well as national air quality monitoring experts, to immediately commence new state-of-the-art air quality monitoring. This testing will include broad sampling for lead and other metals.

Second, in keeping with the ombudsman's recommendations, EPA will require a new trial burn which will measure the facility's ability to properly dispose of waste material. All information from this trial burn will be made available to the public.

Third, as recommended by the ombudsman's preliminary report, EPA will amend the 1995-1997 risk assessment to reflect all information acquired through new air monitoring and the trial burn.

According to the EPA, it is "fully committed to the protection of public health and safety." Continued Fields, "As new information becomes available, EPA will take all steps to protect the public's health, including an order to cease operations if necessary."

Raymond Wayne, spokesman for WTI, had not seen a copy of the report when he was contacted Saturday night.

"I am disappointed in the ombudsman's decision to release his findings in the dead of night, so to speak, without giving WTI an opportunity to respond." Continued Wayne, "Common courtesy would dictate that we should have first seen the report."

Wayne stated that WTI was the most scrutinized facility bar none.

"Where is the value of previous tests?" he lamented. "This will mean more money for what? More tests?"

Wayne contends that the ombudsman's office already had a bias against WTI with the presence of Hugh Kaufmann on its staff.

"Kaufmann favors the Greenpeace organization and in fact worked against the opening of WTI in the early 90s."

Wayne had no further comments about the ombudsman's decision, stating that he couldn't speculate on the response of WTI.

"I don't want this to be a battle of press releases," he said.

The investigation was accompanied by informal meetings with WTI and citizens in August in Ohio at his request and ex parte meeting with WTI, Tim Fields, assistant administrator of EPA, and Francis X. Lyons, EPA regional administrator. He attended a public hearing last month in East Liverpool along with U.S. Congressman James Traficant at which time witnesses were questioned including WTI management, WTI opponents and members of the East Liverpool City Council including Mayor Dolores Satow.

During this public hearing conducted at Westgate Middle School, Martin determined that the health and safety of the public was a primary concern voiced during the meeting. He quoted Satow when she noted that the local government had "relied almost solely on the EPA" for assurances on safety and risk-management. Councilman Greg Wycoff observed that "we must take very seriously the safety of our community." Councilman Bill Hogue articulated that "safety (is) our foremost concern, " and went on to say "if there's a possibility...that the facility is not as safe as the company claims then someone needs to be there in the middle to steer the course."

The two issues which Martin addresses as reasons for his recommendations are (1) the quality and weight of environmental data critical to the efficiency of the trial burn and subsequent regulatory compliance and (2) resulting uncertainties surrounding the risk assessment for the WTI facility.

In the report, Martin also answered WTI's May 26, 2000, accusation that the ombudsman's office did not have the jurisdiction to terminate a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit at great length, concluding that "Von Roll's attack on the ombudsman's jurisdiction is baseless."

Martin first cited a ruling from 1993 that proclaims that nothing prohibits the EPA from taking action to prevent any activity that endangers human health or the environment.

Second, the EPA unquestionably has the legal authority to terminate an RCRA permit at any time.

Third, Von Roll's pending permit renewal application makes this the ideal time for raising concerns regarding the propriety of allowing Von Roll to continue operating under an RCRA permit.

Fourth, The EPA has the authority to issue orders and commence legal proceedings upon receipt of evidence that the "......handling of hazardous waste may present an imminent or substantial endangerment to health of the environment."

Finally, Martin finds that WTI misconceives the nature of the office of ombudsman. He states, "The ombudsman is not a court and cannot order the agency to take action; rather, the ombudsman's authority arises from his or her ability to provide sound and fair guidance to the agency."

The authority of the ombudsman concludes with this statement from Martin.

"In short, Von Roll's attack on the ombudsman's jurisdiction is at odds with clear law and, if accepted, would severely undercut the institution of the Ombudsman as well as the ability of EPA to exercise its statutory authority under RCRA."

The Office of Ombudsman for the EPA was established by Congress in 1986, authorizing the ombudsman to receive individual complaints, grievances, and requests for information submitted by any person with respect to any program or requirement under this act.

By centralizing all these functions in the Office of Ombudsman, Congress intended to improve EPA's responsiveness to the public with respect to the increasingly complex RCRA and Superfund programs.

Contact the Review: Jody Powers (Managing Editor) ---- Cindy Veness (Advertising Director ) ---- Dale Leoni (Circulation Director)