ANNAPOLIS — A Union Bridge citizens coalition, fearful of a nearby cement plant's plans to burn hazardous waste as fuel, supported legislation Wednesday that would prohibit the activity.
About 10 members of Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area testified before the House Environmental Matters Committee that incineration of hazardous wastes in cement kilns has not been proven safe and could cause pollution and health risks.
"This legislation is needed to protect the citizens of Maryland,"said Jacquelyn D. Loats of Westminster. "Company towns can't oppose the company."
Loats was referring to Lehigh Portland Cement Co., by far the largest employer in the west Carroll town of about 900.
Last June, the Maryland Department of the Environment denied Lehigh'sapplication to burn carbon waste. The waste would have been importedfrom a New Jersey plastics and dye manufacturer that would have paidLehigh to accept it.
"Why should we put ourselves at risk for their profits?" asked RHUBA leader Julian S. Stein Jr.
MDE said the material could be hazardous and cited Lehigh's history of emissions violations. Lehigh officials contend that the carbon waste is non-hazardous and have appealed the decision.
Lehigh also withdrew an application last August to burn liquid hazardous waste in its kilns, whichare fired primarily by coal. Company officials say they may apply again.
Nearby residents say waste oil residues and cement dust emitted from the plant's smokestacks settle in the community and constitute a blight. They formed RHUBA to battle Lehigh's plans to burn wastesas alternative fuels.
Uniontown resident Rachelle Feldman Hurwitzwarns that emissions problems are not limited to Union Bridge.
"Ilive five miles away and I'm in the impact area. There's dust on thecars," she said. "It's hard to get through to people that it's a countywide issue."
Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, is sponsoring the legislation that would impose a three-year moratorium on hazardouswaste incineration in cement or "lightweight" aggregate kilns. A Washington County cement company plans to burn hazardous waste. Many Washington County residents and environmentalists backed the bill.
The bill also calls for the creation of a task force to analyze health and environmental impacts and recommend alternative solid wastes as fuels and guidelines for handling hazardous wastes.
The bill's opponents testified that no scientific data exists showing incineration of hazardous wastes in cement kilns increases health risks.
They say the burning reduces illegal dumping and helps solve disposal problems.
MDE says it has authority through regulations and permit conditions to protect public health and the environment from the incineration of hazardous wastes.
The state now ships about 70 percent of its hazardous wastes to other states, the agency says, warning that markets could close or become prohibitively expensive.
"We do not believe that burning this waste in cement kilns is going to be the panacea for the hazardous waste problem," said Linda S. Cunfer, New Windsor Community Action Project chairwoman.
Concerned Carroll residents say they are skeptical of MDE's ability to regulate and monitor theburning. Permits shouldn't be issued until the state develops a comprehensive hazardous waste burning plan that addresses cement kilns, Cunfer said.