Lehigh, With 9 Plants In U.s., Finds Regulators At Every Turn

'It's A Hard Industry To Make Neat And Tidy'

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

At its New York plant, the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. has burned hazardous wastes and is trying to get final approval from the state to continue.

In Texas, the company is being sued by the state for violating the Texas Clean Air Act.

In Iowa, its dust dump is a Superfund cleanup site.

As part ofa highly regulated industry, Lehigh has had its share of dealings with environmental and legal officials.

Lehigh operates nine plants in seven states. Its most productive plant is in Union Bridge, where 190 workers make 1 million tons of cement a year, or about one-fifth of the corporation's capacity.

To keep up with the competition andto lower costs, the company wants to burn alternative fuels, including a carbon waste from a New Jersey dye company, at Union Bridge. Lehigh also applied to burn hazardous wastes, but decided against it in late August, saying it would not be economical.

Lehigh has burned hazardous wastes at only one other of its plants, said Elizabeth H. Mikols, manager of environmental affairs at Lehigh's corporate headquarters in Allentown, Pa.

It's not likely Lehigh eventually will burn hazardous wastes at all of its plants because of economic and structural limitations, said Jeffry H. Brozyna, company vice president andgeneral counsel.

New York environmental officials said Lehigh burned hazardous wastes in an experimental program from 1983 to 1986 at its plant in Cementon, in the Hudson Valley.

"Technologically, thecompany demonstrated the feasibility of burning solvents in a cementkiln," said Eldred Rich of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

A permit to burn hazardous waste on a regular basis still is under review by the state, officials said.

The Cementon plant has had only minor problems with dust emissions, said Garry Neighmond, a regional air pollution control engineer for the department. Cementon is "a small hamlet" in a sparsely populated area alongthe Hudson River, he said.

Lehigh has made improvements to keep emissions down, Neighmond said.

"Lehigh as a company always tried to do the job," he said. "It's a hard industry to make neat and tidy."

John J. Jones, now assistant plant manager at Union Bridge, worked in Cementon for about seven years, five of those as plant manager. He came to Carroll County in April.

Company employees had no contact with the hazardous wastes, he said. Employees from Patchem Inc., the New Jersey-based company that supplied the waste, handled the materials, he said.

Burning the wastes did not affect the manufacturing operation or the quality of the product, Jones said.

In Texas, at a plant half-owned by Lehigh, the state is suing the company for illegal dust emissions. The state has listed more than 100 violations, which could carry a maximum fine of $2.5 million.

The civil lawsuit, filed in May 1990, alleges that the Texas Lehigh Cement Co., whichis half-owned by Centex Corp. of Dallas, violated the Texas Clean Air Act by allowing excessive dust emissions dating back to 1988. The plant is in Buda, just south of Austin.

Mikols said the company hasinvested about $5 million in improvements to the plant to try to solve the emissions problem.

Centex has operated the plant since it was built in the mid-'70s, she said. Lehigh purchased a 50 percent share in 1986, but Centex runs the plant, she said.

The state also isalleging that Lehigh burned chipped tires at the Buda plant without a state permit, said David Preister, an assistant attorney general inTexas.

Mikols said the company burned tires on a trial basis for about a month because managers thought they had approval from the state. They stopped when the state objected, she said. Tires are not considered a hazardous waste.

James W. Thomas, a permit engineer withthe Texas Air Control Board, said that since the lawsuit was filed, the company has been making improvements and has been cooperative with officials.

In Mason City, Iowa, in August 1990, Lehigh and another cement company were named to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund cleanup list because waste kiln dust had polluted a creek.

The contamination has not gotten into nearby wells and is not considered a hazard to human health, an article in the Mason City Globe-Gazette reported.

Last June, Lehigh agreed to spend about $5 million to clean up the site. The company had dumped dust at the sitesince the 1950s, EPA officials said.

Lehigh also dumps waste dustin a landfill at its Union Bridge plant, but Plant Manager David H. Roush said what happened in Mason City could not happen in Carroll County because the landfill does not have contact with the water table and was constructed to handle the dust.

The plant generates 25 pounds of waste dust for every ton of cement made.

"It's dust to dust," he said. "It came from the ground. It's the limestone, shale and sand that came out of there. We're just throwing a small portion of itaway."

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