UNION BRIDGE — Resident Julian Stein describes the emissions from a stack at LehighPortland Cement Co. as "a heavy grayish, whitish, tan material."
The residue lands on cars, another resident said, making it necessaryto wash the windshields before driving.
The state cited Lehigh for illegal emissions on 21 days in February and March and has proposed fining the company $20,000.
The fineis the largest the state has proposed against Lehigh and the only one for illegal emissions.
State law prohibits any visible emissions.
The emissions were ground limestone, shale and sand -- or "just basically dust," said assistant plant manager John J. Jones. The materials are used to make cement.
Dust collectors in the stack, whichemits exhaust from the No. 4 kiln, were not working properly during that period, Jones said. Problems remain, but are being corrected, hesaid.
The state cited Lehigh for 25 violations between Feb. 21 and March 24; 20 were reported by the company, and five were noted by astate inspector, said Michael Sullivan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Companies that discharge material into the air or water are required to make regular reports to MDE, he said.
The fine is proposed, not levied, because MDE gives the company an opportunity to discuss the violations and the circumstances if it chooses, Sullivan said.
The company does not have to shut down the No. 4 kiln while the appeal is pending, he said.
It is possible the fine could be lowered after the meeting, Sullivan said. He did not know how often that happens.
Jones said the company will request a meeting with MDE officials and will ask why the state hasn't cited the company before for illegal emissions.
Lehigh has had breakdowns in the past with the precipitator, or dust collector, on that kiln, which was built in 1972 and is the newest of the company's four kilns, Jones said.
The company had done "extensive repairs" on the precipitator in February, before the violations were reported, he said.
"Apparently, some of those repairs did not work out as well as we had anticipated," he said.
Precipitators use electricity to collect dust and return it for use in the cement-making process. Electrodes, lengths of wire about a quarter-inch thick, emit a current whichattracts dust, Jones said. The dust then is transferred to collecting plates, he said.
The electrodes in one half of the precipitator had been malfunctioning, Jones said.
The company has done more repairs and has noted three violations since March 24, Jones said.
Hesaid he did not know of any emission problems with the other three kilns, which were built in the late 1950s.
Members of an area citizens group have said they want continuous emission monitors installed on the stacks. A new cement plant would need such monitors to meet federal regulations.
The duration of the illegal emissions varies from one hour to 24 hours, Sullivan said. During four of the 21 days for which Lehigh is cited -- Feb. 24 and March 5, 8 and 9 -- emissions were reported for 24 hours, he said.
"Our standards are set up to protect the environment and human health," Sullivan said. "Anything exceeding the standards is considered dangerous."
"The largest measure of how bad it was is the number of violations," he said. "It becomes more of a concern when it's a recurring problem."
Sullivan said the emissions probably are not "an immediate health risk."
Plantmanager David H. Roush said in March that the emissions were not a health hazard.
State inspectors initiated a series of unannounced inspections at Lehigh Feb. 13, as part of a statewide monitoring program.
In January, the state also proposed fining Lehigh in another matter.
MDE cited the company because a report Lehigh submitted showed some waste oil that the company accepted in July exceeded the maximum lead content. The state proposed a $2,000 fine.
Company and state officials discussed the citation, but MDE has not made a final decision in the matter, Sullivan said.
Applications Lehigh submitted to MDE to burn alternative fuels in its kilns are pending, he said.The company wants to burn lumps of carbon waste and hazardous waste solvents.