March 2, 2010

Fully Addressing Wastewater Worries

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The College Veterinary Medicine raised eyebrows last month when it accidentally discharged animal carcass wastewater into Ithaca city sewers. Although the University immediately declared that the waste was “neither infectious nor hazardous” to the public, some concerns about the facility remain. Cornell ought to be forthcoming in addressing these issues.

A local environmental group has criticized the University for the way it is dealing with waste disposal. Toxics Targeting says that Cornell is not sufficiently testing the wastewater and has not fully released all relevant information about its waste disposal facility.

As the University seeks to obtain a permit that would allow it to regularly dispose of this type of waste through a municipal treatment plant, there are important town-gown relations on the line. The University is a powerful neighbor in Tompkins County, and it has been criticized — both justly and unjustly — for abusing its power. As such an active neighbor, Cornell owes it to the residents of Ithaca and the surrounding community to provide complete information about what the University is and is not doing.

The University may not have a legal obligation to disclose every detail about this facility. We are confident that it has and will continue to conform to any formal information requests from federal, state and local authorities. However, Cornell has a greater social responsibility to keep the community and general public well informed. While calls for transparency may be cliche these days, full disclosure is essential when public safety may hang in the balance.

We urge the University to publicly release any and all information it has relating to the disposal of the waste generated at the vet college. Cornell should disclose the results of any testing, the details of its treatment processes and other pieces of information that may be relevant.

The public deserves the right to judge for itself the evidence for Cornell’s claims that its disposal of waste is safe and not hazardous. The University was appropriately prompt last month in announcing the accidental discharge of waste to the public. However, we urge the University to extend this sense of transparency to all aspects of this waste removal issue.