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DIGGING DEEPER: Endicott officials demand answers before battery recycling facility moves in

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ENDICOTT (WBNG) -- As the permit process moves forward for a proposed battery recycling facility in Endicott, the mayor is saying not so fast.

Many residents are charged up over the safety of the facility, after dozens of public comments were submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation expressing concern.

SungEel MCC Americas is currently renting the property at 801 Clark St. on the Huron campus. Endicott Mayor Linda Jackson says a draft permit was sent to her by the DEC just a few weeks ago. If approved, that would allow SungEel MCC Americas to begin operations on its' battery recycling facility.

As the permit awaits approval, the mayor says she has some concerns. "We hadn't gotten any information, no one had ever contacted the village since the recycling incinerator was supposed to be here. You would think they would have mentioned it to us, but they did not," Jackson told 12 News.

SungEel MCC Americas plans to recycle lithium ion batteries. The company says it would be the first of its kind facility here in the United States. SungEel MCC America's joint venture partner, SungEel HiTech, currently operates a similar facility in South Korea. Lithium ion batteries are known to be highly flammable and linked to fires and injuries across the U.S.

The company's CEO, Danish Mir, told 12 News in an email, the prior mayor was "fully aware of the project." We spoke to former Mayor John Bertoni back in December, in regards to the concerns over the facility he said, "Evironmentalists, those who have some objections to it, do come to the meetings and you certainly have to listen and if they're right well find out."

Jackson has been in office since January. She says considering Endicott's history with contamination, the village needs more time before a decision is made. "We have to do our due diligence," said Jackson. "There's been so many other problems in the village over the years that we have 12 thousand residents to consider over their health and safety."

Olwen Searles, who lives just a few blocks from the facility, says she has concerns. "It seems like we're going to be the toxic dumping ground," said Searles. "Which I don't know why. Why Endicott? It just seems wrong."

Public records issued by the DEC about the SungEel HiTech plant in South Korea show dozens of toxic chemicals could be involved in the recycling process. SungEel MCC Americas told 12 News emissions will be monitored, controlled and tested to meet air quality standards.

For Searles, however, she says any amount of emissions are enough to make her want to leave the neighborhood altogether. "I don't want to move, but I also don't want to live next to a toxic chemical plant either," said Searles.

Deputy Mayor Cheryl Chapman says safety is her top concern. She attended the public meeting held in the fall and says she's been researching the possible dangers associated with lithium ion batteries.

"There is just so many more questions, not only the safety but the safety of the residents when storing these batteries. These batteries are very flammable and here you are talking about storing a lot of them in a small area," said Chapman.

Moving forwad, SungEel MCC Americas says there are currently "no plans for additional meetings." Chapman told 12 News, "We will demand that they have public hearings because they have to."

Jackson said if SungEel MCC America's will not hold additonal public meetings, the village will hold its own hearings to allow residents to express their concerns.

The mayor said just a few weeks ago, the DEC sent her a draft air state facility permit which states the DEC would be "held harmless" if anything were to go wrong.

"It seems a little unfair if they're going to be giving out a permit but they don't want to be held responsible, so it made us a little nervous," she told 12 News.

12 News reached out to the DEC for a copy of the permit draft and are still waiting for a response.

The DEC told 12 News on Feb. 12:

"DEC’s rigorous review of the public comments received on the permit application during our extensive public outreach period is ongoing. Following  completion of our review, DEC will prepare a responsiveness summary to address all comments received prior to making a final determination on the permit application."

12 News also reached out to New York's Empire State Development, which back in 2018, announced $1.75 million dollars in funding to bring the battery recycling facility to Endicott. Many residents have asked why the company wants to operate in Endicott, here's what officials from Empire State Development told 12 News in an email:

"ESD learned of the proposed project and worked with the company to ensure we could retain their talent and future growth in the Southern Tier, ultimately offering an incentive package. ESD's incentives, which are performance-based and tied directly to job creation commitments, were offered to support the project and ensure it happened here instead of another state.  The Huron Campus and its existing infrastructure are well positioned to attract new companies and, alongside other battery/energy storage businesses, we are building an industry cluster that will grow the local workforce and help to attract more business from the industry.

With regard to the air quality question, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is conducting a thorough review of the air emissions from the project through the air permit process to ensure the protection of public health and the environment. While ESD does not regulate emissions, we did our due diligence on this project which included reviewing the current technology in place in South Korea, where it utilizes pollution controls to help ensure no significant air emissions."

Chloe Vincente

Chloe Vincente is an Evening News Anchor at 12 News.

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