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  • EPA official urges shutdown of Ohio incinerator

    Sunday, October 22, 2000

    Michael Hawthorne
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Eight years after Vice President Al Gore vowed to block a hazardous-waste incinerator from operating near an elementary school in eastern Ohio, a federal ombudsman is recommending that the controversial plant be shut down.

    Robert Martin, national ombudsman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said his investigation uncovered "fundamental irregularities'' in tests of emissions from Von Roll Waste Technology Industries' incinerator in East Liverpool.

    Among other things, Martin found that WTI has failed to track what happens to lead after it's burned in the incinerator. He also said other potential risks to public health weren't adequately addressed before the plant began operating.

    The EPA could revoke the company's permit, but Martin recommended that WTI be closed for at least six months until more tests can be scheduled.

    "Such an addendum is necessary in view of the uncertainties surrounding the stack and other air- monitoring data,'' Martin wrote in a preliminary report issued Friday.

    It's unclear whether the ombudsman's report will affect Gore's reputation as an environmentalist as he enters the final weeks of his campaign for president.

    Activists fighting to scuttle the plant accuse Gore of breaking a promise made as he and President Clinton drove through the area on a bus tour after their 1992 election. The vice president contends his hands were legally tied after the EPA granted a permit to operate the incinerator in the final days of President Bush's administration.

    "The safety of this community is of paramount importance, which is why I supported the community's request to refer this matter to the ombudsman,'' Gore said in a statement. "I strongly urge the EPA to take swift action to fulfill the ombudsman's recommendations and provide the community with the protection it deserves.''

    About 60,000 tons of industrial and household waste are incinerated each year at the plant, which opened in December 1992 after WTI spent more than a decade obtaining state and federal permits.

    The plant is about 1,000 feet from an elementary school and near several homes.

    "Ordering more tests is a positive first step, given the level of violations and poor performance of this facility,'' said Rick Hind of Greenpeace, one of the groups that have been fighting the incinerator.

    The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency recently fined WTI $135,000 for violating state hazardous-waste regulations.

    The agency said the company at times failed to properly manage waste containers, failed to separate incompatible waste, failed to properly evaluate waste received at the plant and failed to operate the plant in a manner minimizing chances of fire, explosion or release of waste.

    WTI officials could not be reached for comment on the ombudsman's report.

    Kathleen McGinty, Gore's top environmental adviser and former director of the White House Office of Environmental Quality, told the ombudsman that the EPA never mentioned the testing irregularities to her while she worked in the Clinton administration.

    "It is our understanding that the report uncovered irregularities in how WTI did or did not use its environmental-monitoring system,'' McGinty said yesterday at the Society of Environmental Journalists' convention in East Lansing, Mich.

    "We fully support the recommendation that the incinerator cease operating until new tests can be done.''


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch