Carroll factory allowed to burn sewage sludge

County officials temporarily OK Lehigh plan to store, test bio-solids

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July 01, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll officials have opened the door on a proposal by a German-owned cement factory to burn dried sludge as an alternative fuel.

The county commissioners gave tentative approval yesterday to a temporary zoning amendment that will allow Lehigh Cement Co. to store pelletized sludge, known as bio-solids, at its factory in Union Bridge.

The company is researching the possibility of firing its kiln with a combination of bio-solids and coal, the first such application in the United States to burn sludge for fuel, although the practice is widespread in Europe.

"We are not saying `no,' but we are not saying, `Full steam ahead,' " said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "We are saying, `Move cautiously.' "

Minnich urged strict monitoring of the process, although the county has no authority beyond storage. The Maryland Department of the Environment will monitor the test burns and be responsible for the permit.

The county's temporary storage approval will allow Lehigh to research what is involved in storing, transporting and burning the bio-solids, which it would procure from Synagro-Baltimore LLC, the company that treats sludge from several Baltimore sewage plants. The yet-unspecified time limit on the storage permit gives the county an opportunity to delay its final decision.

The county's current ordinance prevents storage of sludge. The proposed amendment would not become permanent until the process is proved to be environmentally sound, county officials stressed.

The Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council recommended approval of the zoning amendment after a thorough review of the proposal, said Kevin E. Dayhoff, council chairman. The council focused on safe storage and company assurances that the community would experience no ill effects.

Like many jurisdictions across the country, Carroll County, which puts much of its treated sewage in landfills, is coping with problems inherent in sludge disposal. "Based on the limits of land application of sludge, we have an obligation to investigate other uses," said James Slater, Carroll's director of environment and resource protection.

Sher Horosko, a member of Carroll Air, a community environmental group, said she is comfortable with the zoning change but wants a public health expert involved.

"We have to look at the air quality impact from bio-solids," Horosko said. "If they burn cleaner than coal, then they are a good thing."

A pound of dried bio-solids could do the work of about a half-pound of coal and will burn cleaner than the thousands of tons of coal that Lehigh burns hourly, company officials said. The company would store as much as 400 tons of sludge in a new 130-foot silo and burn it in its kiln at temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees. The kiln's high temperatures destroy organic compounds, removing them from the environment, and the resultant ash is incorporated into the cement, company officials said.

"We are confident that this is going to work," said Ed Morton, alternative fuels and materials manager at the Heidelberg Technology Center in Allentown, a parent company to Lehigh.

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