Ohio River 'Mixing Zone' Ban Delayed

Charleston Gazette
10 October 2013
By Ken Ward Jr.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A multi-state commission that sets pollution standards for the Ohio River Thursday delayed for two years a ban on chemical discharge "mixing zones," a move citizen groups said rewards factories for putting off water quality improvements.

During a meeting in Charleston, members of the Cincinnati-based Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission voted in favor of the delay, which puts off the mixing zone ban until October 2015.

Mixing zones are areas downstream from pollution discharges where water quality limits would not apply, giving discharges the ability to be diluted by river water before having to meet regulatory standards.

About a decade ago, the commission, known as ORSANCO, established a plan to phase out mixing zones for mercury and other bio-accumulative chemicals of concern, or BCCs, that build up in the food chain, increasing their toxicity.

Various industry groups and companies argued in favor of the delay in the mixing zone ban, saying they still needed more time to come up with appropriate pollution controls.

Environmental groups said that industry has had long enough, and urged ORSANCO not to delay. In one letter, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition noted that companies that needed more time could ask for specific variances, meaning a more broad delay wasn't really needed.

"ORSANCO, states and dischargers have had ten years to prepare for this deadline and few dischargers have taken action to reduce their discharge of mercury or determined if they need to take advantage of the variance procedure which ORSANCO adopted approximately one year ago," said Angie Rosser, executive director of the rivers group. "A deadline extension rewards dischargers for their procrastination and negligence, negates accountability, and undermines ORSCANO's authority for setting firm deadlines."

Already, at least one facility -- the former PPG Industries plant in Natrium -- which had received a variance to allow it to continue to use a mixing zone for its mercury discharges. Axiall now owns the plant.

The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia appoint members of the commission.

The West Virginia members are Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, industry lawyer David Flannery, and Ron Potesta, a consultant for various industry clients.

Commission members approved the extension of time for the mixing zone ban through a unanimous voice vote, without any discussion during their formal meeting Thursday morning at the Charleston Marriott.

In a draft response to comments, ORSANCO's technical committee said the delay "would allow the time necessary to determine if ... treatment is necessary to protect the uses of the Ohio River.

"The commission ... believes that the two-year extension will provide greater certainty to the regulated community regarding their compliance status."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.