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Connecticut drops slightly in a national EPA ranking of how it treats its toxic waste

The Middletown Press - 3/27/2024

Mar. 26—As Connecticut looks to hold PFAS producers liable for harm to the environment, the state dropped slightly in 2022 in how its industrial sites treat toxic chemicals, according to a recent federal report.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that Connecticut's larger industrial facilities were able to recycle for secondary uses 90 percent of the waste chemicals they generated or handled. That's in line with the state's recycling rate the prior year and works out to some 58,700 tons of toxic waste diverted from immediate disposal in incinerators and landfills or released otherwise into the air or bodies of water.

Overall, Connecticut ranked 38 out of 56 states or territories nationwide in the EPA report, based on total toxic releases per square mile, with a No. 1 ranking being the highest for releases.

According to EPA's data, the more than 250 plants in Connecticut tracked by the federal agency produced a total of about 131.1 million pounds, or 65,550 tons of toxic waste in 2022, down overall by 2.6 percent from 2021 when 134.4 million pounds, or 67,200 tons were produced.

Under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, the EPA analyzes waste generation at select industrial facilities nationally, and how much of it is recycled or disposed. A decade ago, the agency had calculated a 63 percent recycling rate for chemical toxins at Connecticut industrial facilities before that figure started to climb in 2015.

The EPA requires companies to report on their handling of more than 800 chemicals. In a statement accompanying the report, an official in EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention said communities "have a right to know how facilities in their backyards might be exposing them to toxic chemicals."

In Connecticut, the industrial roster tracked by EPA in 2022 included just over 250 plants, crisscrossing the state from polymer manufacturer Spartech's facility just off the Stamford waterfront, to the northeast corner in Putnam where Dimension-Polyant makes sailcloth for yachts.

The EPA list does not include toxic nuclear waste generated at Dominion Energy'sMillstone Power Station plant in Waterford in its tracking. In February, Millstone applied for permission from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency to begin loading spent fuel into a storage cask already approved for such use on site, starting later this spring for one of its two reactors and next year for the other.

Of Connecticut industrial entities tracked by EPA, the environmental remediation giant Clean Harbors is the largest handler of toxic materials collected from any number of companies that rely on it to clean up spills and other problems. Clean Harbors has its Connecticut transfer, treatment and recycling station on Broderick Road in Bristol, just north of ESPN's headquarters campus.

On its website, Clear Harbors reports a range of activities in Bristol to include "stabilization" of sludge destined for landfills; as a transfer station for hazardous waste and PCBs; and dismantling of surplus equipment, such as computers and lab tools.

While the EPA logged a nearly 40 percent increase in toxic materials coming through the Bristol facility in 2022, the total remained well below quantities processed by Clean Harbors in 2020 and 2019. In January, the watchdog publication Corporate Knights ranked Clean Harbors 13th globally on its list of the most "sustainable" companies.

"The volumes at our Bristol site have varied based on the needs of customers in the region as well as how we route hazardous materials throughout our national network," Clean Harbors spokesman Jim Buckley said. "The Bristol site is an important way station in helping our network function efficiently. Over the past five years, there have not been significant changes to how we operate the Bristol facility so the year-over-year changes in volumes — either up or down — are largely due to the ebbs and flows of the waste streams in the region, which includes base business plus project work."

UniMetal Surface Finishing, whose South Main Street plant in Thomaston has been an annual fixture in the top three handlers of toxic chemicals in Connecticut as tracked by EPA, saw by far its lowest totals in 2022, producing about 47 tons of waste for a nearly 50 percent decline from the prior year. UniMetal provides finished metal parts for a wide range of companies.

A former Hutchinson facility in Danielson leapfrogged UniMetal in the 2022 report, in its final year of operation on Wauregan Road where it made industrial seals. Hutchinson did not respond to a query on whether the EPA totals included the transfer of chemicals in Danielson to any other U.S. facility that may have taken over work performed there.

Last month in a conference call, Clean Harbors highlighted its preparations to handle materials that are contaminated with PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," that state and federal agencies are now grappling with.

"We talked about PFAS over the past few years, and obviously people have been waiting for it," said Mike Battles, co-CEO of Clean Harbors, speaking in late February. "A full PFAS solution — as far as end disposal which is scalable and ready today — we're really excited about that."

An official with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection told lawmakers earlier this month that Connecticut has comparatively fewer industries that actively use PFAS, but that DEEP is heightening its scrutiny.

"What we have been doing is studying the research that's coming out on the national level to look at some of the industries that are known to use PFAS, intentionally added or otherwise in their processes," said Graham Stevens, DEEP's bureau chief for water protection and land use, during a recent public hearing of the Connecticut General Assembly's Environment Committee. "We have been working through our records to identify current and former such uses in Connecticut, and we are formulating plans to address potential risks to the environment and also to drinking water."


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