OMYA faced environment charges in Vermont
Swiss firm reached out-of-court deals
Dave Rogers
The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, February 28, 2003

OMYA Inc., the Swiss multinational charged with dumping liquid industrial waste into a quarry north of Perth, has reached four out-of-court settlements with the state of Vermont following 17 environmental charges since 1993.

The Vermont settlements were for charges of violating a water discharge permit in 1998, air pollution violations in 2000 and 1998 and dumping that was alleged to have violated state wetland rules in 1996.

In all cases, the company promised not to repeat the offences and contributed to area charities.

The state also charged the company with failure to promptly report chemical spills and failure to manage and keep proper records of hazardous materials..

Neal Jordan, OMYA's environmental and regulatory manager, said the company signed four voluntary agreements with the state after the alleged violations..

"Each case resulted in an assurance of discontinuance and that is the end of the matter," Mr. Jordan said. "In some cases, instead of paying a fine, the company contributed to environmental projects related to the alleged violations.

"In one case where water left the site with a higher amount of solids than was allowed in our permit, we made a contribution of $6,500 to a local high school to help students sample water in a river."

Other settlements included "several thousand dollars in contributions" for a school asthma education program and wetlands education in Vermont.

In Ontario, OMYA faces a maximum possible fine of $33 million -- $100,000 a day on each of three charges during the 111-day period between Dec. 1, 2000 and March 21, 2001. The company's first court appearance on the Ontario charges is in Perth on March 25.

Ontario Environment Ministry spokesman John Steele said yesterday the company is charged with "dumping product that did not meet its specifications" in a quarry at Tatlock near the village of Lanark.

Alan Bryant, a lawyer for OMYA Canada Inc., said he could not comment on the Ontario charges, but added everything the company uses at its plant west of Perth is benign.

OMYA mixes ground calcium carbonate with water to produce a white slurry that is shipped throughout North America to produce paper, wallboard, plastic, paint, food additives, toothpaste and antacids.

Vermont residents are concerned that chemicals from quarry waste and waste water used at the OMYA plant in Florence, Vermont may have seeped into ground water used for drinking.

The chemicals used at the company's Vermont plant include high-strength chlorine bleach and a variety of fungicides and anti-microbial compounds. Company officials in Florence say the Perth plant uses different chemicals.

"The company said it was surprised by the presence of solvents such as acetone and toluene in their tailings (quarry waste)", said Annette Smith, chief executive officer of Vermonters For a Clean Environment. "The fact that this is in a quarry full of ground water within half a mile of the town water supply is of great concern to the residents."

Jim Reddy, president of OMYA Inc. in Florence, said all the chemicals the company uses are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"These are all preservatives," Mr. Reddy said. "If you have a spa or a swimming pool in the back yard and you fill it with drinking water, in a couple of days you will have some stuff growing in it unless you add chemicals.

"We put in preservatives that you find all over the kitchen in the product so we don't have anything growing in it."

Tom Sawyer, the company's health and safety manager, said OMYA uses the same agricultural pesticides that are employed to control potato fungus and preserve oranges and an anti-bacterial agent found in shampoo. OMYA officials say the chemicals found in the water in Vermont are within state and U.S. drinking water standards.