Lehigh Plan To Burn Hazardous Waste Sparks Protest

February 24, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

UNION BRIDGE — Instead of saying, "Not in my back yard," to a Lehigh Portland Cement Co. plan to burn potentially hazardous waste in its kilns, many of the town's 964 residents are saying, "Not in my state."

Meanwhile,the Maryland Department of the Environment will conduct another public hearing at a time to be determined before deciding whether to approve Lehigh's request, said spokesman John Goheen.

The MDE also is awaiting results of testing it performed at Ciba-Geigy, the New Jersey plant that produces the carbon waste Lehigh wants to burn.

Members of a new and as yet unnamed citizens group saythey will circulate a petition asking the governor to put an immediate halt to shipment from other states of potentially hazardous or toxic materials to be incinerated, dumped or buried in Maryland.

The petition could be controversial because Maryland ships nearly all of its own hazardous waste to other states.

The statewide approach will garner more signatures and impress the governor and legislators more than would a Union Bridge complaint, said Rachelle Hurwitz of Uniontown, a spokeswoman for the group.

The approximately 50 people who attended the first meeting Feb. 20 agreed that the group's name should include the words "Union Bridge Area."

Several people at the meeting said they want the name to reflect concern from residents in adjacent Frederick County and other Carroll towns who feel they are just downwind of any toxic fumes or particles that could come out of Lehigh's smokestacks.

"A few weeks ago they were burning something (at Lehigh), and the smell was so vile I couldsmell it at my house," Hurwitz said.

Hurwitz said the burning of hazardous or potentially hazardous waste in cement kilns is a national issue that she plans to bring to the attention of television networks.

Other members of the group said it was more important to focus on Union Bridge and Lehigh. As a compromise, the petition will include a specific request that the state deny the company's pending requests for two permits to burn waste.

The state is considering Lehigh's request to burn carbon used in filtering water at a Ciba-Geigy's chemical plant. Although the "spent" carbon is not classified as hazardous waste in Maryland, it is listed as hazardous in other states and by some federal agencies, Hurwitz said.

MDE officials have said their studies show burning the carbon would beno different from the coal the company now burns.

A second permitrequest, in an early stage of study by the MDE, would allow Lehigh to burn waste solvents listed as hazardous because of their volatility.

Because cement kilns reach a much higher temperature than standard incinerators, said Lehigh plant manager Dave Roush, the company can offer a safer means of disposal than landfills or traditionalincinerators, while saving money and reusing the waste for fuel.

Gary Batey, plant manager at Independent Cement Corporation in Hagerstown, Washington County, said he sent a representative to the state'sformal hearing on the Lehigh permit in Union Bridge Jan. 25 because his company also is interested in burning spent carbon.

Batey said residents' vehement opposition to Lehigh's plan concerns him, buthe said his plant will have to burn alternative fuels "to survive."

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. A plant in Texas burns chipped tires, and a New York plant has burned waste oils and hazardous waste solvents, she said.

Maryland has no commercial incinerators that could take hazardous materials from other companies. Chemicals being cleaned out of a Patapsco Road home in Gaither are being sent to an incinerator in South Carolina.

Only three other companies statewide have permits to burn hazardous waste, and they burn only what they generate, MDE engineer Alan Bowles said.

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