Lehigh Drops Plan To Burn Hazardous Waste, Citing Cost

August 28, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

UNION BRIDGE — Lehigh Portland Cement Co. will not burn liquid hazardous waste as afuel because it's not economical, but company officials say they mayreconsider the decision.

After three months of study, officials at Lehigh's corporate headquarters in Allentown, Pa., decided that burning hazardous waste here and at three other plants would not be feasible, said Jeffry H. Brozyna, a Lehigh vice president and general counsel.

"We concluded that the economics were not sufficient for us to pursue the application any further," said Elizabeth H. Mikols, Lehigh'smanager of environmental affairs. Officials may reconsider the decision, but probably not in the next couple of years, she said.

Julian S. Stein Jr., leader of Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area, said he wasn't surprised the company decided not to burn hazardous waste after the state said it couldn't burn carbon waste.

Lehigh still wants to burn non-hazardous wastes and will continue to fight for permission to burn carbon waste, plant manager David H. Roush said.The company says the carbon is non-hazardous.

The company's plan to burn the carbon, which would come from a New Jersey dye company, brought residents out in force at public hearings in January. They worried that in addition to dust that regularly spewed from Lehigh's stacks they might be breathing more toxic emissions if the company burned alternative fuels.

RHUBA researched the carbon waste as well as CIBA-GEIGY Corp., the Toms River, N.J., company where it's generated,and Cemtech Inc. of Middlesex, N.J., which would bring the carbon tothe plant here.

The citizens group's members are convinced that the carbon, which would come from a federal Superfund clean-up site and which is used in waste water treatment, is hazardous, Stein said.

Lehigh wants to burn the carbon as a cheaper fuel supplement to coal.

In June, the Maryland Department of the Environment denied Lehigh permission to burn the carbon, saying the waste could be hazardousand citing past emissions violations at Lehigh.

Lehigh appealed the ruling to a state hearing board. A hearing has been delayed because Lehigh had requested a meeting with MDE officials before a hearing date was set, said the MDE's John Goheen.

The meeting has not taken place, and no hearing date has been set, Goheen said.

RHUBA representatives and their attorney, a University of Maryland law professor who specializes in environmental law, met yesterday with MDE DeputySecretary Ronald Nelson and George P. Ferreri, director of the Air Management Administration, to discuss the appeal.

Scott Burns, a professor at the Baltimore law school, said the citizens wanted an update on the status of the appeal.

Burns oversees an environmental law clinic and said he and his students are representing RHUBA for free.

The company made its decision not to burn hazardous waste after considering the cost and length of the application process and the availability of the wastes, among other factors, Mikols said.

Roush said, "The benefit was positive, but not positive enough."

The company still wants to burn hazardous waste at its plant in Cementon, N.Y. The Cementon plant uses a wet process to make cement, which is more expensive than the dry process used at the plant here, Mikols said.

Burning hazardous waste, which is cheaper than coal, will save the company more money at Cementon, she said.

The company burned hazardous waste at Cementon in an experimental program from 1983 to 1986. A New York environmental official said the company burned the wastes safely. A permit to burn the waste on a regular basis is under review.

Lehigh first applied to burn hazardous waste at its Union Bridge plant in 1988 and updated its application in July 1990. The company was forced to make a decision by Aug. 21 about whether to go ahead with the plan because new federal regulations for burning hazardous waste in cement kilns took effect that day, Mikols said.

A "study team" with members from a number of corporate departments, including finance, legal, manufacturing and engineering, studied the issue with input from the plants involved, she said.

Roush said he wasn't part of the study team, and the decision was made at the corporate level.

The Union Bridge plant burns waste oil as a supplemental fuel. The company will continue to look for other non-hazardous alternative fuels, he said.

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