April 29, 2020, Front Page
If the response to the initial meeting is any indication, expect fireworks to fly as emotional opponents, convinced the operation is a threat to the environment, will argue the village is trying to push through a process that poses a threat to Endicott residents. More than 70 people signed on to the April 20 virtual session.
On Monday, the village board will make a final decision on a proposed village zoning change to redefine laws relating to recycling operations. The pending vote will spark an impassioned debate on the merits of the twoyear- old plan by an international consortium to recycle thee popular portable and rechargeable power sources.
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“We are concerned for the health of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren as well as the lowering of our property values,” said a 10-page position paper released by a groupNo Incineration in the Southern Tier. “This whole project is being rushed through by the state, the mayor and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation at an unhealthy speed and during a worldwide pandemic.”
But reviews by the DEC and a separate independent analysis from an engineering company commissioned by the village say the concerns are overblown, and conclude the recycling operation will adhere to existing environmental laws.
After contacting “independent experts that are up to date on federal and state regulations which in the last year have been getting much more strict,” the DEC, based on plans presented by the company, gave the plant the go-ahead by issuing an air permit.
A study by Barton & Loguidice noted the DEC-issued permit includes “appropriate regulatory monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements necessary to protect human health and the environment.”
Neither report, now available on the Village of Endicott website, has mellowed the fervor of opponents tying to derail the project. They aim to present a show of force Monday when the board convenes to discuss a zoning change that further defines recycling under village codes.
Watch the meeting at tinyurl.com/battery-recycle.
It is unclear if opponents can block the battery recycling operation. The DEC says the enterprise is permitted, and by granting an air permit, the sponsors are free to proceed.
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.
Company representatives said the recycling operation could be operational within six months after being permitted by the DEC. After three years, the company expects to employ 100 people. The initial workforce will be about 20.
Materials recovered in the recycling process will be shipped to processors in South Korea, France and Canada.
Endicott Mayor Linda Jackson said altering zoning rules provide the only viable route to local oversight on the recycling operation.
Members of the public wishing to speak at the May 4 meeting conducted through the Zoom application will be limited to three minutes, Jackson said.
“The board will not be answering any questions,” she stressed.
Public airing wanted in Endicott
“Recycling is a manufacturing process,” Jackson said. “It has been allowed for many years. There is no definite definition, so we can add that with restrictions now. We must get this done before this company sets up their process.”
At least two village board members — R. Ted Warner and Patrick Dorner — expressed serious reservations about the Sungeel process at the April 20 meeting, sympathizing with detractors who want a live, post-virus restrictions public hearing on the proposal.
But there’s little likelihood of further public hearings following the Monday evening meeting.
“Recycling batteries is a responsible process,” Jackson said. “Not being recycled, and just dumped into a landfill without being discharged, is what causes fires.”
In a November meeting conducted by project partners, some residents expressed serious reservations about the plant’s environmental impacts on a community that already suffered through a legacy chemical plume that posed a hazard throughout the village.
Sungeel executives said the plant will be self-contained, and chemical threats are immaterial.
“What we’re doing in Endicott is not an experiment; it’s not a pilot plan,” Danish Mir, president of SungEel MCC Americas, said during a public meeting called to discuss the clear public concern.
Paul Connett, a retired St. Lawrence University chemistry professor, terms Sungeel’s characterization of the plant pure public relations that strains the limits of plausibility.
He alleges the plant will spew toxins during an “incineration” process, disbursing harmful vapors throughout the community.
“Common sense says that this area is inappropriate for this plant because of the local topography,” said the position paper distributed by opponents. “It is located in a valley where dispersion of pollutants is hindered, especially during temperature inversions.”
At the November public meeting conducted on the Huron campus, Mir acknowledged lithium-ion batteries are prone to fires, and extra precautions will be taken to assure that combustion, if it were to occur, will be contained as part of the company’s stringent safety procedures. Company representatives said dioxin emissions from the process will be zero or close to zero.
In response to a concern that the plant would change the community’s character, the DEC said: “The facility is located in an industrial zone and reuses a building that was used for industrial activities.”
Grant, tax credits
Though lithium-ion battery recycling has been common in South Korea and other parts of the world, it is relatively uncommon in the United States, company representatives said.
Incentives for the project include a $750,000 grant for monitoring and evaluation efforts at the new facility, and a $1 million tax credit.
Large growth in lithium-ion power storage units has led to the growth of the recycling industry. Demand for cobalt and lithium used in the batteries used to power everything from mobile phones to electric cars has caused prices for the raw material to rise. In the industry, the process of recovering materials from recycled products is termed “urban mining.” Batteries from used laptops, mobile phones and electric vehicles are recovered for the recycling operation.
A Reuters report said the recycling process is not complex or highly automated. After workers pull batteries from recycled devices, the units are drained of power and then ground into a powder, from which individual metals — including cobalt, nickel and magnesium — can be separated.
About 5% of the lithium-ion batteries are now recycled, Mir said.
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.
The Endicott battery recycling plant wants to reprocess lithium ion batteries to recover materials for reuse. MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL FILE