Plant in Chester, Pa., seeks to burn tires as fuel

Environmentalists call plan a threat to air quality

September 20, 2001|By Dan Hardy | Dan Hardy,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHESTER, Pa. - Kimberly-Clark Corp., which manufactures paper products at a mill in Chester, wants the state to let it burn more than 2.7 million tires a year in the company's power plant.

The plan, opposed by environmentalists as a threat to air quality and the health of Chester's residents, is being reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has approved other tire-burning fuel plans in recent years as a way to reduce the state's huge stockpiles of tires.

Kimberly-Clark, Chester's largest employer with 950 workers, would become the biggest user of tire-derived fuel in Pennsylvania. Three cement factories and a paper mill in the state now burn 6.1 million tires a year for fuel.

Company's view

"We have a long history in Chester of responsible operations and concern for the environment, and we're not going to stop doing that now," said Tom Colgrove, the plant manager.

Colgrove said his company was asking the Department of Environmental Protection to allow a six-month trial burn, using shredded tires as 8 percent of the total fuel mix. If emissions are within acceptable limits, the company would ask to be able to use the fuel permanently.

Kimberly-Clark's power plant, which now burns anthracite culm (waste coal), petroleum coke and paper-mill sludge, is one of Chester's largest emitters of pollutants, but its emissions are within state guidelines, company and state officials said.

Colgrove said he expected the test would show that tire-burning results in a lower emission of pollutants than the plant now produces.

Burning tires for fuel is known to produce nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides and hydrocarbon emissions. The Chester plant already emits large amounts of those compounds.

Some air tests have also shown small amounts of such carcinogens as toxic metals and dioxins, depending on what technology is used, according to a study by the University of California at Davis.

Some local environmentalists are threatening a boycott of Scott-brand paper products produced in Chester by Kimberly-Clark if the tire-burning is approved.

"I'm completely opposed to them burning tires," said Zulene Mayfield, head of the environmental group Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living. "Whatever steps we have to take - in the streets, legally, and with the [state and federal agencies] - we will."

Mayfield called Kimberly-Clark's proposal "a slap in the face" to Chester residents. "Everybody is talking about revitalizing Chester. New businesses are coming in and life is good. The tire-burning negates all that. It will drive people away."

Mayor Dominic F. Pileggi said he was worried but was "taking a wait-and-see approach."

"It may turn out to be good for the city and good for Kimberly-Clark, but that remains to be seen. ... My concern is that this will turn out to be another waste-disposal site in Chester. I'm very concerned about the impact of that kind of thing for the city."

Chester is already home to a large municipal waste incinerator and a Delaware County sewage-treatment plant.

Joseph O. Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, said he was concerned about the health effects of burning tires for fuel.

"Tires are really hard to dispose of safely, but there are real health concerns about burning them for fuel," Minott said. "We're totally opposed to any new waste processing in Chester, however. They've been asked to take on too much already."

Burning tires for fuel is a process popular with Department of Environmental Protection officials as a way to reduce used-tire stockpiles.

Since 1966, the Department of Environmental Protection says, 20 million of the state's 36 million waste tires have been disposed of. Sixty-five percent of those tires have been burned as fuel - in some cases, producing lower air emissions and saving fuel costs.

Department of Environmental Protection officials say information sessions and a hearing on the Kimberly-Clark request will be held this fall and winter and that a final decision was months away.

The plant, at the foot of Welsh Street along the Delaware River, would save about $800,000 a year of its $8 million to $9 million annual fuel cost by using the tires, said Kenneth E. Ferris, the facility's manager for special projects.

Three-day test

A three-day test burn of tires in 1999 showed slightly higher hydrocarbon emissions and particulates and a higher level of dioxins, but Colgrove said none of those results exceeded acceptable limits. If any potentially toxic emissions were to be released at unacceptably high levels, Colgrove added, the company would stop and cancel the rest of the trial.

Paul Connett, a chemistry professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., said he opposes using tires for fuel because they emit potentially carcinogenic dioxins and sulfur compounds among hundreds of byproducts.

"It's the crudest, the laziest and one of the most harmful ways of disposing of used tires," said Connett, who has testified as an incineration expert on behalf of environmental groups. "We're in the 21st century. We should be able to do better than that."

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