PCS Phosphate, EPA working to avoid litigation

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, March 18, 2009

By Staff
As evidenced in Sunday’s Daily News, the Environmental Protection Agency has found what it contends are hazardous-waste violations at the PCS Phosphate facility in Aurora.
The alleged violations, initially uncovered by the EPA during inspections in 2004 and 2005, concern a waste-water pond, plant byproducts and fertilizer produced at the mine-and-plant complex. The inspections were part of a nationwide EPA initiative to enforce hazardous materials regulations at mineral-processing facilities.
The EPA didn’t mince words: “EPA has hereby determined that there may be a substantial hazard to human health or the environment due to the presence of hazardous waste and constituents and potential releases of hazardous wastes and constituents from the PCS-Aurora Facility,” read an agreement signed in September by both PCS Phosphate and EPA officials.
That’s as far as PCS Phosphate would go to admit any potential culpability in the matter.
Ross Smith, PCS Phosphate-Aurora environmental manager, emphasized the facility’s “closed-loop” system that continually recycles hazardous waste on site.
The EPA, though, doesn’t agree that the closed-loop system guarantees safety, noting that evidence suggests the system can leak and “cause widespread environmental damage.”
Smith argues that the dispute isn’t about changes the company has made at the facility, but about what is considered hazardous waste.
The two sides have agreed to disagree, but are working together to monitor potential contamination from the facility. Talks between the mining company and the government are ongoing, and we hope the issue is resolved without litigation.
It’s a good sign, at least, that PCS Phosphate and the EPA have resolved to get to the bottom of the issue seemingly without a lot of rancor. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that PCS concludes the ordeal with a clean bill of health.
If not, the company will have to modify its handling of hazardous waste to avoid potential problems for workers and Aurora residents.