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Are NY Pollution Permits Just Being Rubber Stamped?

April 28, 2008

Albany, NY — You might think a nearby river or lake is safe and being tested for pollutants, but new research says otherwise. The report, released today, is critical of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for failing to conduct "substantive reviews" every five years, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Katherine Nadeau, a water and natural resources associate with Environmental Advocates of New York says instead, the state's environmental agency asks polluters if they think their waste water discharge permit needs to be reviewed. If they say no, Nadeau explains, the permit is simply rubber-stamped, and they can continue to discharge waste for another five years.

"That's the scariest part. I can't say for certain what impact this is having on the water waste -- but neither can the Department of Environmental Conservation, and that's their number one job."

Nadeau says the lack of oversight of the pollution permits has left New Yorkers across the state exposed to potential health and environmental risks.

"The facilities receiving these permits are anything from wastewater facilities to industrial manufacturers; so it's a really wide range of what can be coming out of the end of their pipes."

The findings also are troubling to Joe Heath, attorney for the Onondaga Nation. Onondaga Lake near Syracuse is so polluted with mercury and more than two dozen other toxic substances, that the tribe can no longer fish there, or use the area for medicinal plants. The state's mandated clean-up of the lake won't help much, Heath observes, if the DEC won't follow up.

"If you don't monitor what's happening after you have supposedly cleaned up, the public has no assurance that there's not just as much of a problem as before, or that there isn't mercury still migrating from that site."

The report, "Permission to Pollute," suggests the DEC perform the substantive reviews that are required under the Clean Water Act, before renewing such permits. When this story was being prepared, the DEC had not yet seen the report and declined to comment.

The full report can be viewed after noon on Monday, at www.eany.org.

Michael Clifford/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY