Cement maker says state EPA order is unfair

Request for information stops work on new kiln

October 03, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Information about possible pollutants that was not included in Lehigh Portland Cement Co.'s permit application led the Environmental Protection Agency to order work stopped on a new kiln at the company's plant in Union Bridge, an EPA spokesman said.

The action came as Lehigh prepared to pour the foundation for the kiln this month, said David H. Roush, plant manager at Union Bridge, who vigorously disagreed with the federal agency's allegation and said the company may take legal action.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that factories file information about three significant air pollutants -- carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and soot -- and outline pollution-control measures before they build.

Lehigh's 1997 application apparently lacked this information, said Patrick Boyle, a spokesman at EPA's mid-Atlantic regional office in Philadelphia. The agency issued the stop-work order Sept. 29.

Pollution isn't an issue now, because the new plant hasn't even been built, he said.

"That's not really what this is all about," Boyle said, but "the people building it know what kind of pollutants will come out. They're supposed to list that -- and what they're going to do about pollution control."

Lehigh disagrees, Roush said, and has discussed legal action, although "it's way early in the process to make that decision."

The Clean Air Act delegates authorization of construction permits to the states, and the Maryland Department of the Environment issued the permit to Lehigh in April, after two public hearings in the town.

A third meeting included Lehigh experts to answer questions, Roush said.

"We filed everything that was needed and asked for, and MDE reviewed it and issued a valid permit -- and we don't really understand what's all behind this," said Roush.

"They spent a long time doing that and reviewed all the issues relating to the pollutants the EPA is citing."

The EPA participated in the process, he said.

"So we feel that any suggestion that we did not provide information is not correct," he said.

The EPA recognizes carbon monoxide as a respiratory threat, soot as a source of respiratory ailments and reduced visibility, and sulfur dioxide as a contributor to smog and acid rain.

In a formal written statement, Lehigh called the enforcement action extraordinary, inappropriate and unfair.

The company's $260 million expansion project began in 1996, Roush said. In addition to the new kiln, it includes a mill, storage and handling equipment for raw materials and a storage silo for the finished product.

During the permit process, he said, Lehigh projected that the new kiln would reduce some emissions, such as nitrogen oxide, and increase others, such as carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. Others would remain about the same, such as sulfur dioxide and soot -- which Lehigh calls dust because it is light and fine, not black and oily.

Roush said dust has been reduced in the past 20 years from Lehigh's four kilns -- three built in 1957 and one in 1971.

The new kiln will replace all four and produce twice as much cement, he said.

A 16-foot diameter, 195-foot long steel tube, the kiln heats raw materials to 2700 degrees, beginning a chemical reaction that reaches about 3000 degrees and creates the cement.

Lehigh has finished site preparation, such as grading and a storm water pond, he said. "We were just about to start pouring the foundation in the next week or two.

"From a technological point of view, we're making cement the same way we did 100 years ago, but the equipment is just bigger, more productive," he said. "We need to modernize or we probably won't last off into the 21st century."

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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