August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gila River: Victory to shut down hazardous waste facility

In an enormous victory for the Gila River Indian Community and the tribal member group Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Youth United for Community Action and other allies, the Gila River Tribal Council this morning voted unanimously 14-0 to reject the proposed US EPA permit for the Romic hazardous waste plant that had operated for decades without proper permits and with a reckless track record on tribal lands. Tribal members, with the support of Greenaction and YUCA, educated the tribal council and community and today the tribal council took a historic stand to protect tribal members, tribal lands and their neighbors. We will now demand US EPA immediately respect this decision, and the law, and deny Romic’s permit. Tribal members and Greenaction will then work to shut down any remaining parts of Romic’s operations at Gila River . Here is the first wire service story on the vote!
--Bradley Angel, Greenaction

Gila River votes to shut down waste facility
Betty Beard
The Arizona Republic

An industrial waste recycling plant on the Gila River Reservation near Chandler may have to close, forcing an estimated 800 customers to start shipping their wastes out of state.The Gila River Indian Community on Wednesday refused to approve the company's permanent permit, apparently because of concern over several recent incidents and fines from the Environmental Protection Agency.Romic Environmental Technologies Corp., a waste management company, says it is the only recycler of certain types of hazardous liquid wastes in the state. It has been operating in the Lone Butte Industrial Park on the reservation, southeast of Interstate 10 and the Santan Freeway, with an interim federal permit since 1988.

Because the Gila River community is its landlord, it needed its approval for continued operations. Rejection by the community's governing council means the company could remain open for months during appeals but that the plant likely will shut down at its current location Namki Yi, Romic's president, said the company could rebuild in the state but that such a move could take years. It would need permits from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the permitting process varies by state."In Palo Alto it is taking us 13 years to renew a permit from the Department of Toxic Substances Control in California ," Yi said.Gila River officials had been getting nervous about Romic because of two incidents in the past year that resulted in a putrid smell last November and a brief flash fire, as well as the EPA fines in April. Employees are trained to keep records and to follow procedures so accidents don't happen and materials end up where they are supposed to. But errors happen, Yi acknowledged. In April a sample test showed that a substance could be recycled. But in actual production the result was a putrid smell that workers at nearby plants described as like "wet fish." Operations shut down and the EPA determined no toxic substances were released. Last November someone mistakenly poured hydrogen peroxide into a tank where acid had been stored, and a flash fire resulted. It was put out immediately and the sprinklers never went off. Romic was fined more than $32,000 for failing to report the incident and other violations.Yi said "personnel changes" resulted from those incidents.In 2005 the company was fined by EPA for multiple violations found during inspections in 2002 and 2003.The company handles liquid and some solid wastes from industries and retailers, mostly in Arizona . The material can be reclaimed, recycled and even blended into alternative fuels that can substitute for natural gas."When you go to some of those oil-change places, you could potentially be getting recycled antifreeze," said Namki Yi, Romic's president.

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