Hagerstown cement plant settles pollution suit

Owners agree to pay $700,000 fine, upgrade emission controls

July 11, 2013|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

The present and former owners of a Hagerstown cement plant have agreed to pay a $700,000 fine and beef up emission controls at the facility to settle alleged air pollution violations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

The proposed federal court consent decree requires Holcim Inc. to install "advanced pollution controls" at the Hagerstown manufacturing facility, which employs about 100 workers. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., also pledged to spend at least $150,000 on replacing an outdated piece of plant equipment with one that emits less pollution.

"It has been a long standing issue, and now the company feels that it really is in [its] best interest to find a resolution," said Holcim spokeswoman Robin L. DeCarlo.

The Department of Justice filed suit on behalf of EPA in 2011 accusing Holcim and the plant's prior owner, St. Lawrence Cement Co., of violating the federal Clean Air Act from 2003 to 2007 by modifying the facility's cement kiln in a way that produced "significant" increased emissions of sulfur dioxide. Breathing sulfur dioxide can cause severe respiratory problems, according to EPA, and cement plant emissions have been known to travel long distances, affecting large areas.

The action against the Hagerstown plant was part of a nationwide EPA effort to tighten pollution controls in the cement industry. The settlement, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, will not be finalized for at least 30 days to give the public an opportunity to comment on it.

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