The Maryland Department of the Environment has dropped a $2,000 penalty proposed last year against Lehigh Portland Cement Co. for accepting some waste oil with high lead levels.
"We don't have much of a strong case on that," said George P. Ferreri, director of the state Air Management Administration. "We're going to have to let it go."
The penalty was proposed last January after the Union Bridge company submitted records to MDE that showed some waste oil it accepted in July exceeded the maximum allowable lead content.
Plant manager David H. Roush said an employee mistakenly accepted the oil, but thatit was combined with other oil before it was burned, so that what was incinerated did not exceed the limit.
Ferreri said yesterday he was not sure when the decision to drop the proposed penalty was made,but said it probably was last fall.
In administrative penalty cases such as this one, Ferreri said MDE officials propose a fine, then meet with company officials to hear their side before deciding whether to impose the fine. Officials could decide to lower the fine.
Lehigh officials met with MDE, but Roush said he was not formally notified that MDE had decided not to assess the fine. He said he found outabout a month ago when he asked an official about the status of the penalty.
"We never got word of that," he said, adding that he wished MDE had made a formal announcement. News of the proposed penalty came a few days before two meetings sponsored by MDE last January to hear public comments about a proposal by Lehigh to burn carbon waste.
MDE subsequently denied Lehigh the permit to burn the carbon as a supplemental fuel. The company, which makes 1 million tons of cement a year, has appealed that decision.
A second, larger proposed penalty against Lehigh for dust emissions last February and March is pending, Ferreri said.
Last April, MDE proposed fining Lehigh $20,000 after emissions spewed from company stacks on 21 days in February andMarch.
Members of a Union Bridge citizens group are upset the process is taking so long and that MDE is not keeping the public informed, said leader Julian S. Stein Jr.
"It's very hard to monitor thisbecause there's no accounting to the public after decisions are made," he said.
Ferreri said MDE officials could not make a decision about the $20,000 penalty until after Jan. 31, when Lehigh must submita report requested by MDE. State and company officials last met Dec.18, he said.
There's no rush to decide whether to assess the penalty, Ferreri said.
"There's no environmental harm occurring right now. These things just take time," he said. "The lawyers are talking."
Lehigh will pursue its efforts to get permission to burn carbon waste after MDE makes a decision about the $20,000 penalty, Roush said. The state denied permission to burn the waste in part because of the company's history of violating air emissions standards.
After the emissions occurred last February and March, Lehigh repaired and upgraded its dust collector, called a precipitator, on its No. 4 kiln in August, Roush said.
The improvements, which cost $500,000 to $600,000, were planned before the state proposed the $20,000 penalty, hesaid.
When the dust collector malfunctioned, the company realizedthe machinery would need a major overhaul, Roush said.
"By (April), we already had all that stuff on order," he said.
The dust collector uses electricity to collect dust and return it for use in the cement-making process. Lehigh added three sets of transformer/rectifiers, which boost the electrical current and change it from alternatingto direct, Roush said. New controls for the transformer/rectifiers also were added.
The change means if part of the precipitator is shut down for repairs, the other parts can functionat full power, he said. In the past, emissions often would occur while part of the precipitator was shut down, he said.
The company also installed a different type of "rapper," which hits the wires that collect the dust and knocks the dust into a bin, Roush said.
The new system "whacks" the wires instead of vibrating them and keeps the wires cleaner, makingthe system more efficient, he said. Lehigh also increased the numberof rappers from 16 to 38, Roush said.
The company also replaced the 4,500 wires in the precipitator, he said. The No. 4 kiln was shut down for 12 days in late August while the changes were made, he said.
Tests done Sept. 16-19 by Roy F. Weston Inc., a testing company from West Chester, Pa., to determine particulate emissions found that Lehigh was below the .03grain per dry standard cubic foot limit allowed by MDE.
The report Lehigh must submit to MDE at the end of thismonth will detail the work that has been done and will include a study by Lehigh corporate engineers about what it would take to have a completely clean stack if half the precipitator was down for repairs, Roush said.
In a related issue, Ferreri said by July all cement and power plants in Maryland must install continuous emissions monitorsand telemetry equipment that will allow MDE to tap into the plants' computers to read three days' worth of emissions data.
Lehigh has appealed the requirement to install the telemetry equipment because officials "do not understand" the language of the requirement, Roush said, adding that he could not be more specific because the appeal is pending.