The DEC has directed SungEel to address the disposal of PFAS, a potentially harmful chemical linked to diseases, reproductive issues and some cancers.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect SungEel’s response to the DEC’s request for information on PFAS in lithium-ion batteries. The response was released Thursday evening.
New York environmental regulators ordered the sponsor of a proposed Endicott lithium-ion battery recycling operation to provide greater detail on the handling of a toxic substance found in the units.
A letter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to the president of SungEel MCC Americas directs the White Plains-based company to address the disposal of PFAS contained in the batteries.
The chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have drawn increasing scrutiny and public alarm over the past few years. Used widely for decades in non-stick pans, stain-resistant clothing, food packaging and firefighting foams, PFAS have more recently been linked to toxic effects such as immunodeficiencies, reproductive issues and some cancers.
In the most glaring example of PFAS pollution, the chemical was found in the Hoosick Falls water supply in 2014, and was suspected of causing cancer and other maladies in the New York’s Hudson River community. Installation of extensive filtration equipment was required in the community’s water system. The pollution was traced back to plastics factories that made products such as Teflon.
Late Thursday, SungEel representatives attempted to play down the hazards from PFAS contained within the batteries.
“We strongly believe that testing will confirm that any PFAS compounds contained in batteries recycled at our facility will be destroyed at levels of concern in our afterburner,” Danish Mir, SungEel president said in a letter to environmental monitors.
DEC personnel said it recently learned that PFAS is one of many elements contained in lithium-ion batteries, raising concerns not previously addressed in the regulatory review.
“There is evidence that any PFAS compounds present in the batteries could result in PFAS emissions,” the DEC wrote in a two-page letter dated May 20, 2020.
DEC engineers have asked SungEel to provide data on PFAS emissions that may occur before and after the recycling process.
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Another level of review
SungEel received a permit from the DEC to proceed with the project in late March, but this week’s letter essentially stalls the project and places another audit on the company before it can proceed with the $11 million project on the northeast corner of the former IBM Endicott campus.
Further, the DEC action subjects the company to another public review and comment period, but the agency notes the second review will only affect submissions on PFAS treatment.
“The PFAS may simply be the tip of the iceberg as far as the overall toxicity of the substances that will be produced by their kiln and afterburner,” said Paul Connett, a Ph.D chemist who is among the leaders for the opponents.
Mir‘s company has been given until June 1 to provide the details requested by the DEC. In his letter, Mir said the company will reach out to lithium-ion batter manufacturers to determine the amount of PFAS in a typical battery.
“We will agree to test for PFAS content in our scrubber water, battery powder, air emissions, (and) baghouse dusts after the facility becomes operational,” MIr told the DEC.
The DEC letter gives a vocal group of detractors another shot at trying to undermine SungEel’s efforts to site what the company calls an eco-friendly installation to recover and recycle elements in the batteries.
Over the past month, Endicott village board members debated the merits of the plan over a combined 10 hours of virtual meetings. There is a clear divide among members. First-term Mayor Linda Jackson has been joined by trustees Cheryl Chapman and Eileen Konecny in expressing support, while Ted Warner and Pat Dorner have clear reservations about the project.
Though the pollution has been largely cleaned in a multimillion-dollar IBM-sponsored effort, a nagging pool remains under unused buildings east of McKinley Avenue in the village.
SungEel MCC Americas, a partnership between South Korean recycling company SungEel HiTech, and White Plains-based e-recycler and broker Metallica Commodities Corp., will invest $11 million at the former IBM Corp. site to recycle 3,000 to 5,000 tons of spent lithium-ion batteries annually. The company expects to initially employ 20 people and reach 100 workers after three years, according to filings.
Incentives for the project include a $750,000 grant for monitoring and evaluation efforts at the new facility, and a $1 million tax credit.
The proposed lithium-ion battery recycling facility will be at 801 Clark St. in the former IBM Building 259, on the northeast corner of Robble Avenue and Clark Street on the Huron Campus.
• Original article online at https://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/local/2020/05/21/endicott-lithium-ion-battery-plant-get-another-dec-review/5235316002/
Jeff Platsky covers transportation and the economy for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at JPLATSKY@Gannett.com and followed on Twitter: @JeffPlatsky