The Ohio EPA held a public hearing in regard to a Mercury Variance Request from the company EMC Ashtabula LP Tuesday in the Blue and Gold Room on the Kent State University – Ashtabula campus. About 20 people attended the event.
EMC wants to modify their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The EMC site is the former location of Elkem Metals and previously Union Carbide at 2700 Lake Road East in Ashtabula Township. The smelting operations at Elkem ended in 2008. The current operations at EMC include warehousing, storage and decommissioning projects.
The discharge (outfall) location is in Lake Erie north of Lake Road East. Paper work provided by the Ohio EPA indicates that discharge is only surface runoff and ground water and contains no process wastewater. The discharges are authorized under the facility’s NPDES permit.
Mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal and is a bioaccumulate chemical of concern for aquatic life, wildlife and human health. Fish consumption advisories regarding unsafe mercury levels and/or PCBs have been issued in the past for the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie.
The water quality standard for mercury is 1.3 parts per trillion in the Great Lakes. NPDES permit holders are required to meet this 1.3 ppt limit with no dilution.
Sources of possible mercury contamination include industrial facilities, coal-fired power plants, incinerators, steel producers, chlorine producers, etc. Other sources can be dental amalgam, hospitals, universities, combine sanitary sewers, historical / legacy discharges and and natural releases from rock to air or water.
EMC monitors the effluent (discharge) at outfall 001 for mercury levels and additional chemicals.
The request for the variance is a matter of economics for EMC. It is difficult to reach the 1.3 ppt mercury limit through treatment alone. Reliable sources say there is an estimated cost of $10 million per pound of mercury removed. The variance would give EMC a five-year window to reach a mercury level of 12 ppt. The company would be required to implement a Pollutant Minimization Program is granted the variance.
EMC will conduct additional sampling in an effort to pinpoint the sources of mercury and examine the feasibility of having a sediment pond.