Carroll cement manufacturing plant reduces toxic chemical emissions

August 19, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County cement manufacturing plant that has drawn harsh criticism on air quality from its neighbors has cleaner and safer emissions than it has had for decades, company officials said yesterday.

Test results on emissions from Lehigh Cement Co. in Union Bridge show a reduction in toxic chemical emissions that are common to cement manufacturing. Toxic emissions dropped from more than 400,000 pounds a year to less than 300 pounds, the results show.

Lehigh plant manager Peter Lukas said he was ecstatic about the test results because they confirm that the $300 million technology added to the plant in the past few years is working.

Lehigh recently proposed burning more than 100 tons a day of dried, sanitized sewage from Baltimore's wastewater facilities to make cement. The company wants to use the pelletized sludge - known as a biosolid - as an alternative or supplement to the coal it burns in its kilns.

The Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council has recommended granting zoning approval to build silos to store the biosolids. County commissioners must approve the change, and a public hearing has to be held before the plant can proceed.

The information on emissions, which has been reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, places Lehigh 84th in the state for total pounds of chemicals released. It had been 12th, according to an environmental score card compiled by a citizens' watchdog group.

Nationwide, Lehigh moved from the 5th percentile of facilities releasing chemicals to the 53rd percentile.

Even Lehigh's most vocal critics are pleased with the results.

"I commend you," said Sher Horosko, who sits on the advisory council and is also a member of Carroll Air, a community environmental group that formed about a year ago to fight what members call "constant pollution" from the plant.

"This says you are doing a great deal with technology in place that has had a favorable impact on our air quality," she said. "You clearly have technology that works, and I hope that you share it widely."

Test results confirmed

The levels of hydrochloric acid were so low after the initial test in May that Lehigh officials ordered a second test that confirmed emissions were near zero. Levels of chromium and sulfuric acid were only slightly higher than the hydrochloric acid. Lead emissions were at 209 pounds annually, a 350-pound decrease from data collected in 2002 and significantly less than the 1,400 pounds of lead allowed in Lehigh's emissions permit from the state.

The results were from independent tests, a $50,000 effort conducted by Zephyr Environmental Corp. The company released the statistics at a Wednesday meeting of the advisory council.

"Their numbers look fine with a significant difference between the old figures and new ones," said James E. Slater, Carroll's environmental compliance officer. "The difference is between the old and new plant."

Company officials credit the multimillion dollar improvements made since 2000. In particular, the new kiln and preheater tower that dominate the skyline for miles in western Carroll County have played a large role in reducing emissions, they said.

MDE required emission controls and stringent air pollution reporting from Lehigh a year ago, mostly in response to neighbors' complaints.

In March, Lehigh agreed to pay a $90,000 penalty and speed up its timetable for improvements at the plant as part of an agreement with MDE on complaints about dust and air pollution concerns.

"We are glad to see the company is making adjustments that fall in line with state standards," said Richard McIntire, a MDE spokesman said yesterday. "We expected to see this change, and it is positive because of upgrades they have made."

Lehigh hired the Ellicott City-based consulting company to do the stack tests and typically self-reports the results to the appropriate agencies.

"These consultants are just as concerned about correctness as those of us working in government," Slater said. "And when you are reporting on stack tests, there is little you can do. The data is right there."

Increasing awareness

Lukas said disseminating the test results is the first step in raising the public's awareness of efforts the company is making to improve the environment. Other plant upgrades have resulted in better fuel efficiency and reduced dust in the air.

"These reductions show substantial improvements in reducing earlier emissions," said Ron White, associate scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This is certainly taking a positive direction and using the best available control technology."

The results will eventually be posted on the Toxics Release Inventory, a public EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by industry groups as well as federal facilities.

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