UNION BRIDGE — While area residents await the state's decision on whether Lehigh Portland Cement Co. may burn waste carbon in its kilns, the company is applying for yet another permit.
This one is for burning hazardouswaste solvents. Officials from the plant and the Maryland Departmentof the Environment say the materials may not be hazardous after theyare burned, depending on the particular substances.
The company will save money by burning waste fuels and says that the high temperature of cement kilns -- about twice that of a regularincinerator -- makes them ideal for burning some kinds of waste as cleanly as they can be burned.
"Most of these kinds of materials, you just can't treat (to make them safe for landfills)," said Alvin L.Bowles, administrator of the MDE Hazardous Waste Program.
"In order to get rid of them, you're going to have to burn them," Bowles said. The choice then is whether to burn them in a commercial hazardous waste incinerator or in a way that their burning can be used as energy, such as in a cement kiln, Bowles said.
Plant manager David H. Roush said cement plants and the community can benefit.
"Isn't it wonderful we can get into something with economic benefits to us and the industry, and at the same time provide a valuable service to the community?" Roush said.
Bowles said no burning process would destroy anything completely. However, he said cement kiln temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, plus the volatility of the solvents, would mean much less ash and particulate matter released through stacks than from the coal the plant now burns as its primary fuel.
Residents remain concerned about emissions and dust they say is pervasivein the town where Lehigh is the only industry.
They will get a chance to comment at a public hearing before MDE approves a permit, Bowles said. He said such a hearing would be at least two months away, as he needs more information from Lehigh.
Linda Cunfer of the New Windsor Community Action Program said the citizens group questions whether a cement kiln should be used for something other than making cement.
Union Bridge resident Julian Stein said residents don't want the company to burn non-hazardous waste, much less hazardous waste.
"What's next? Where does it end? We're not a bunch of hicks. They can't dump this on us," he said.
Elizabeth Mikols, manager of environmental affairs for Lehigh at its executive office in Allentown, Pa., said two of the company's nine cement plants have burned alternative fuels.
Examples of hazardous waste solvents a Lehigh plant mightburn in its kilns include paint products and thinners and agents used to clean printing and manufacturing equipment, she said.
Roush will have to tell the MDE what solvents he wants to burn before the department will issue a permit, Bowles said. He and his staff are reviewing the 4-inch-thick application from Lehigh.
Even with all that paperwork, Lehigh's application does not give enough information, Bowles said. For example, some of the chemicals the company included in the application cannot be burned with the type of limited permit Lehigh is requesting, he said.
Bowles said he expects the company to exclude those chemicals rather than apply for a much more involved permit to burn more-dangerous hazardous waste.
"The materials we're interested in pretty much all fall under the category of hazardous because of their flammability, rather than because they have bad stuff in them," Roush said.
Bowles agreed, and said the ash would not contain any more than trace amounts, if any, of mercury, lead, chromium or other heavy metals.
"I don't think you'd have anything different than what you have now," Bowles said of the ash, which would end upmixed with the cement powder. He said he didn't know whether the ashin the cement would pose any risk to the environment once the cementbecame a sidewalk or road.
Roush said he couldn't estimate the savings from burning waste solvents, because it will depend on the fuel burned, the amount and costs for receiving and testing. He said thecompany's goal is to burn 80 percent coal and 20 percent alternativefuels in its four kilns.
If the state gives the company permission to burn the solvents, Lehigh will build two 35,000-gallon tanks forstorage, he said.