Fighting for Clean Water in Endicott

By Joan McKiernan

Endicott residents and local activists got disappointing news just after Christmas when they learned that the “stink trucks” will continue bringing pollutants through our town. On December 22, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued the permit to allow i3 to continue importing landfill wastes for processing in the former IBM Endicott plant before discharging the fetid effluent into the Susquehanna.

This decision was contested by a large number of organizations and individuals from Endicott and the wider Broome County area. The DEC was forced to lengthen the comment period and to hold a well-attended public hearing. The DEC has shared the comments made by all those who contributed and their own responses.

The Department’s responses reflect a different world from the one we witnessed at the public hearing. Then residents spoke movingly of their illnesses, their inability to use the town water for drinking or bathing, and their fears of the poor water quality’s impact on their children and grandchildren’s health. The Department’s response does not offer much to allay the fears of these people.

The DEC received 51 comments. Another 21 people spoke at the public meeting. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Broome County Health Department sent recommendations. Organizations that submitted comments included the Sierra Club, Concerned Citizens of Endicott, and Broome-Tioga Green Party.

Greatest concern was expressed on the following issues:

Importing leachate into Broome County and need for a referendum to get political approval from residents. DEC says that i3 is allowed to treat outside wastes as long as the facility continues to meet their permit requirements (which DEC grants); and the DEC’s authority for this permit is independent of any local government’s approval.

Full environmental impact assessment, particularly because of the additional material being sent to the plant. Since 2014, the amount of landfill leachate increased by 7 times, and 15 times increase in the amount of Reverse Osmosis concentrate. The DEC had already decided that the permit changes “will not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts.”

Third party testing of effluent. “The Department has added a requirement to the i3 Electronics SPDES permit that allows the DEC to perform unannounced sampling of the discharge for all parameters listed in the permit.”

Odors coming from the plant is a widely publicized problem. DEC only received two recent complaints. They advise that “any offsite odor complaints should be reported to the NYSDEC Region 7 office for investigation.”

Safety of the drinking water supply. DEC: “The facility’s technology-based limits were set using methods and requirements developed by the USEPA.” There is an attached fact sheet, which may explain what this means.

Other issues raised included the need for physical inspection of  the effluent tanks, impact on the Susquehanna, Chesapeake Bay and fish and water life, audit of permit violations, and leaking of storm sewers and underground pipes.

So i3 got their permit to continue making profits, while providing very few jobs, but local residents are left with their fears. No one is fostering any hope of bringing good, sustainable jobs to Broome County, and all the politicians are offering is more waste.

Thanks to all who supported this fight. While we cannot count this as win, the community coming together to stand up for safe water, community health, and un-populated air is an important step in developing effective resistance to the negative by products of corporate profit-making and government complicity. We will have to continue to fight to protect our water and air. We are not alone, as we witness and support the struggles in Standing Rock, Detroit, and Flint, to name a few.




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