Endicott lithium-ion battery recycling meeting: 5 things to know before you join

By Jeff Platsky
June 25, 2020
Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton NY.
Note: This online article was not in the June 24 or June 25 print version.

Since a November meeting with community members, sponsors of a lithium-ion battery recycling plant proposed for Endicott’s Huron campus have been silent on the controversy that has erupted as opponents attempt to quash the project.

That will change on the evening of June 30 when SungEel MMC America hosts the virtual public meeting many Endicott residents have been demanding. During the meeting, company executives promise to answer pre-submitted questions about the project.

Project sponsors said the meeting is being conducted as part of its “ongoing commitment to transparency.”

Executives held two previous meetings, including a summer session with representatives of the Endicott Stakeholders group, which had long-monitored the clean-up efforts of IBM Corp.’s toxic plume, and another public session was conducted in early November at the Huron campus with about 30 members of the community. That session was sometimes contentious as participants questioned company claims about the safety of the recycling process.

How you can attend the meeting

SungEel representatives invite all interested parties to attend the virtual session scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Like many other meeting conducted during the coronavirus pandemic, it will be streamed on Zoom.

The meeting is likely to attract a wide audience. Village of Endicott board of trustee meetings in which the project was discussed drew as many as 290 participants.

What’s at stake?

SungEel MCC Americas, a partnership between South Korean recycling company SungEel HiTech and e-recycler and broker Metallica Commodities Corp., will invest $22 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.

Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council 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.

SungEel claims to be one of the few companies in the world to have an eco-friendly, closed-loop recycling process for treating all types of lithium-ion battery scraps.

Why the controversy?

Opponents allege the operation — which detractors say will use incineration to recover material from spent batteries — will be a source of toxic emissions near a residential area and within close proximity of a ball field.

They contend the operation is out of character with the neighborhood and poses a substantial health hazard to the village.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation granted SungEel MCC Americas an “Air State Facility Permit,” stating “the facility is not projected to be a major source of regulated air pollutants.”

While environmental regulators noted there will be emissions from the process, it said “compliance with the department’s regulations and policy are designed to reduce risks to acceptable levels established to be protective of human health and safety, and the environment.”

However, the proposal came under a secondary review when state regulators determined the recycling process could be the source of hazardous PFAS, a chemical that has fouled drinking water in several communities.

Who is lined up pro and con?

Mayor Linda Jackson, along with Trustees Cheryl Chapman and Eileen Konecny, have expressed support for the project, citing its economic benefits while discounting the claims of potential hazards by detractors.

Trustees Ted Warner and Patrick Dorner have expressed serious reservations.

Leading the opposition is Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor, who characterized company safety claims as “scientific poppycock.” His connections brought some high-powered support to back up his claims.

“This is not recycling. This is incineration,” said Judith Enck, former regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overseeing environmental protection in New York and New Jersey in the Obama administration. “This is a different technology that has not been tried here before.”

Among the supporters is  Stanley Whittingham, of Binghamton University, the 2019 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, who is credited with groundbreaking research in the development of the lithium-ion battery.

What’s next?

The Department of Environmental Conservation must rule on the potential PFAS hazard. If regulators give the green light, Endicott Mayor Jackson said the project is a go because a building permit will be issued based on the fact that recycling operations were previously allowed on the Huron site.

Opponents contend otherwise. Vigorous objections are expected continue and the open meeting scheduled for Tuesday may not be enough to convince the most ardent of critics.

*Original article online at https://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/local/2020/06/24/endicott-battery-plant-meeting-things-know-before-zoom-stream/3241399001/

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