For Plant's Oldest Worker, The Fire Still Burns

Says Burning Wastes Better Than Dumping Them

October 20, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Late every fall, C. Edward Reddick totes his guns westward.

To get away from the stresses of life and the heat of cement kilns, he hunts in Montana.

His basement, a menagerie of stuffed game, is a scrapbook of his travels. He proudly shows off the bounty on his walls, which includesa bear, antelope and mountain goat.

At 67, Reddick is the oldest employee at the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. He's robust with a big smile and skin tanned from hours in his garden. He has no intention of giving up hunting or working any time soon.

For 34 years, he's worked at the cement plant, most of that time from 3 to 11 p.m. in the kiln control room, where he monitors a computerized panel and regularlypeers into the intense heat of two of Lehigh's four kilns to make sure the flames are burning properly.

Reddick has lived around UnionBridge and Lehigh all his life. He and his wife, Deborah, a registered nurse, now live outside Johnsville in Frederick County.

Before coming to Lehigh, Reddick, who graduated from the former New Windsor High School, and his family operated a dairy farm near Uniontown. Thedust from the plant was much worse then, but residents accepted it, he said.

"You should've seen it before," he said. "None of the farmers around Union Bridge ever had to lime their fields.

"They weren't complaining then. This was a cement town. Whether it (the dust) was harmful or not, I don't know. It probably was harmless."

Reddick, who five times ran a 50-mile trail race, said he's never been sickas a result of work. He has pride in his job and takes umbrage at complaints by some area residents that Lehigh cuts corners by turning off dust collectors at night.

"I'd get fired if I cut the precipitator off," he said. "They don't turn them off at night because I work at night."

The residents who oppose Lehigh's plans to burn carbon waste and other wastes are "trying to block Lehigh's existence," Reddick said.

People who move to the area from other places should accept the community the way it is, he said. They should be allowed an equal voice in what goes on, but they shouldn't expect a complete change, he said.

"They want to get rid of the farmer as much as get rid of Lehigh," Reddick said. "They want to change the community."

Members of Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area, the citizens group formed earlier this year, say they don't want Lehigh to close because so many people would lose their jobs. But they say they don't want the plant to burn anything that could be harmful to human health or the environment.

Reddick said he can't speak with any authorityabout the safety of burning the wastes, but "my feeling is we shouldburn it.

"The reason I feel this way is we cannot continue to throw our waste in the ocean and the ground," he said. "We somehow must utilize it.

"We've got to find a safe way to burn this stuff. Thisstuff we're throwing away is just as much fuel as a load of coal."

Reddick is a union member but isn't as "radical" about it as some other employees, he said.

"So many times I sense an attitude that the company is our enemy. I don't think it should be that way. We bothhave to survive."

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