Opposition Led To A Review That Denied Lehigh Permit

June 16, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

UNION BRIDGE — Resident opposition to the burning of carbon waste at Lehigh Portland Cement Co. forced state environmental officials to further examine the issue before they decided to deny the company permission to burn the waste, one official said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment announced Wednesday that it had denied Lehigh a permit to burncarbon waste as a supplemental fuel in its kilns because the waste could be hazardous and because of past emissions violations at Lehigh.

Members of the citizens group Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area investigated the New Jersey company that would supply Lehighwith the carbon waste and discovered the waste would be coming from a Superfund cleanup site.

The group sent its findings to the state, and MDE officials visited CIBA-GEIGY Corp. in Toms River, N.J., said George P. Ferreri, director of the Air Management Administration.

RHUBA raised issues and officials "checked it out," he said.

"Itforced us to look deeper into the thing, but we can't deny permits just because people don't want something," Ferreri said. "The reasons for denial were based on technical reasons."

Lehigh plant manager David H. Roush said no decision has been made on appealing the denial.

Glenn S. Ruskin, a spokesman for CIBA-GEIGY, said, "Whether the fear (of the waste by the citizens) was perceptual or real, it had animpact on the decision they (MDE officials) made."

Julian S. Stein Jr., a spokesman for RHUBA, said the state took its time "looking over the pros and cons" and made the best decision for the community.

Lehigh applied for the permit in November 1989, and the state finished its review of the application in September 1990. In January, thestate sponsored a hearing here to take comments from the public. State officials said then that they had concluded from their review thatburning the carbon would not violate air-quality standards.

MDE said Wednesday that it denied the permit for two reasons:

* The carbon waste may be a hazardous material.

The carbon is being used atCIBA-GEIGY to filter ground water that may have been contaminated bya spill or discharge of hazardous waste, a letter from Ferreri to Roush says.

As a result, the carbon may be classified as a hazardouswaste, even though tests MDE did on samples taken from the site showit was not hazardous, Ferreri said.

Federal regulations say if a material comes in contact with a hazardous waste, then it, too, couldbe considered hazardous, the MDE said.

* Lehigh has a history of violating air emissions standards.

"The department is not confident that Lehigh Portland can meet air-quality standards while burning carbon waste," an MDE press release says.

In April, the state citedLehigh for illegal emissions in February and March and has proposed fining the company $20,000.

The company has discussed the citations with state officials, but officials have not made a final decision about the fine, MDE spokesman Michael Sullivan said.

Lehigh also has been cited for illegal emissions dating back to 1988, but fines were not levied, he said.

The plant currently burns coal and waste oil in its four kilns. The carbon waste would have been 1 percent to 2percent of the fuel mix and would have been a cheaper fuel than coal, Roush said.

CIBA-GEIGY would have paid Lehigh to take the waste,which has been stored in a landfill on company property in Toms River since 1987, Ruskin said.

In February, Lehigh applied to the state to burn hazardous wastes, such as paint products and thinners and agents used to clean printing and manufacturing equipment.

No decision on that permit is imminent, Sullivan said.

Lehigh is the firstcement company in Maryland to apply to burn hazardous waste, he said. About 25 cement plants around the country now burn hazardous wastesas alternative fuels.

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