CWM Chemical Services has violated its wastewater release permit because of a foam discharge found near the company's Niagara River outfall pipeline, a spokeswoman for state environmental regulators said Thursday.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation believes the substance was created as a high volume of treated wastewater traveled through a long vertical drop in the pipe.
The agency is reviewing enforcement options, spokeswoman Maureen Wren said.
"The presence of the foam itself is a violation of the permit," Wren said.
Staff from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a regional environmental group, discovered the material during regular monitoring of the lower river in early October.
In a statement issued Thursday, Julie Barrett O'Neill, the group's executive director, described the foam material as "thick, discolored and acrid-smelling."
"Even though this pipe is supposed to be carrying primarily treated wastewater leachate from CWM's facility, we are concerned that the foam has not been tested and there is no way to determine whether the substance posed an ecological or human health risk," Barrett O'Neill said in the statement. "CWM's facility is permitted to landfill numerous toxic substances, such as PCBs and mercury, and therefore any violation to their permit, even foam, should be investigated thoroughly."
The company is permitted to use its outfall pipeline to make an annual discharge of treated and tested wastewater from on-site collection ponds into the Niagara River. That pipeline is below the river surface.
The foam was coming out of a second pipeline, a vent pipeline. The condition was created by air bubbles, DEC officials said.
Treated wastewater discharges were in compliance with the company's permit, Wren said.
The company is required to collect rainwater that falls onto the hazardous waste landfill. They collect it in ponds, then treat it before discharging it into the Niagara River.
The company began discharging about 25 million gallons of treated wastewater on Oct. 1, said CWM spokeswoman Lori Caso. Under its current permit, the company can discharge up to 1 million gallons per day.
The company dismissed the possibility of any danger due to the situation.
"The foam is not a threat to public health or the environment," Caso said in a statement.
CWM reduced the discharge rate in an attempt to reduce the amount of foam coming from the vent pipe, Caso said.
Regulators on Thursday had not yet notified the company of any violation caused by the presence of the foam, she added.
State environmental officials are considering whether they will test the foam after receiving requests for such action, Wren said.
Meanwhile, DEC officials are accepting comments regarding proposed modifications to CWM's discharge permit.
In an Oct. 25 letter to the company, DEC environmental engineer David Leemhuis said the foam was visible on the morning of Oct. 24. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper officials said they last observed foam on Oct. 26.
The agency also told the company it had observed foam rising in the river in the area of an approximate 20-foot extension of the vent pipe.
"The use of the vent line, or any extension of the vent line, as a point of wastewater discharge is prohibited under New York State water pollution control laws," Leemhuis wrote.
Judith Mokhiber, a Porter resident who is also a member of the state Advisory Council on Children's Environmental Health and Safety, said she is concerned because the Niagara River and Great Lakes are a significant source of fresh water.
"Anyone who looks at [the foam] can't say it's normal," Mokhiber said.
The state this week awarded a grant to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to assess the migration of contaminants from two inactive hazardous waste sites buried under part of the CWM facility.