St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch (pg. B1)  [Printer-friendly version]
October 10, 2006


By Georgina Gustin

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is demanding that the operators of a hazardous waste incinerator comply with federal requirements after operating for years without a permit.The demands come on the heels of two lawsuits filed by area environmental groups, the American Bottom Conservancy and a local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Onyx incinerator, one of 17 such facilities in the country, burns highly toxic medical and chemical waste, from around the region and beyond, emitting pollutants into the air. But since new federal permitting requirements took effect in the 1990s, the facility has failed to obtain an operating permit, officials said.

In 2003 the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency tried to issue a permit, but the federal EPA objected to it because the state agency didn't address major concerns. The permit is critical, environmental groups say, because it requires more stringent reporting and monitoring of pollutants.

"The state proposed a permit in 2003, but it was woefully inadequate," said Bruce Nilles, an attorney for the Sierra Club. "We objected, the EPA agreed, but then the state failed to do it over. Now the U.S. EPA is finally stepping up."

The federal EPA has ultimate jurisdiction and can issue permits or take over if a state agency is failing to act.

"The state has totally abdicated its responsibility to protect the citizens of Illinois," Nilles added. "The (federal) EPA is taking over."

In a letter sent Sept. 29 to Onyx Environmental Services, now known as Veolia, federal regulators said they are demanding that the facility apply for a permit within 12 months. The EPA then has 18 months to decide if the application is acceptable.

Veolia officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

However, the company is holding a public meeting Wednesday to discuss its intent to comply with waste disposal regulations, though not federal Clean Air Act rules. The meeting is being held at 1 p.m. at Sauget Village Hall.

The American Bottom Conservancy and the Sierra Club initially sued the EPA to get them to respond to a petition they filed in 2003. The groups filed a second lawsuit this year, attempting to force the EPA to issue a permit. That lawsuit is pending in federal court.

The Onyx incinerator has long been the focus of environmentalists' concerns and has been fined repeatedly for uncontrolled releases, accidents and fires.

Most recently, in September, the EPA cited the facility for exceeding emissions limits for benzene and arsenic, and for failing to adhere to leak detection and repair requirements., 618-624-2645

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