Residents question Cemex standards
- Published: September 4, 2008
In a panel discussion held Thursday night, Aug. 27, and organized by Village Environmental Commission to clarify Cemex’s plans to test burn tires as a partial fuel for the cement plant down the road, the clearest thing that emerged from the panel discussion was the distrust for Cemex among residents of Yellow Springs. To most of the 75 people crammed along the walls and in the doorways of Bryan Center’s rooms A and B, Cemex poses a threat, which, if left unregulated, will be detrimental to the physical health of the population and to the future economic prospects of the community.
As the third largest cement producer in the world, Cemex manufactures 740,000 tons of cement each year at its Fairborn facility off of Dayton-Yellow Springs Road using a single kiln powered by a combination of mostly petroleum coke and coal, according to panelist Bud McCormick, a plant manager at the Fairborn Cemex. In the spring the Fairborn facility received approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to conduct two 60-day tests using whole scrap tires for up to 30 percent of its fuel source, in combination with coal and pet coke. According to McCormick, the company plans to conduct the test sometime this winter, perhaps as early as December of this year.
The EPA has collected data that shows burning tires as a partial fuel is cleaner than coal and pet coke, according to John Paul, the panelist from the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency (the EPA’s air pollution enforcement body). And state agencies have an interest in using tires as fuel to alleviate a nation-wide problem of disposing of scrap tires, according to Erika Wiggins, a panelist from the Ohio EPA. But until the test is conducted, neither the company nor the public will know the kind and quantity of air emissions that will be produced from the new combination of fuels. The only emissions standards Cemex must adhere to even during the test are the national ambient air quality standards established by the EPA and the Ohio Department of Health, Wiggins said.
But that assurance wasn’t satisfactory to many of those who spoke at the meeting, who wanted to know the precise identity and quantity of toxins that could be released into the village’s air, and the procedure to abort the test burn if the toxins began to exceed permit limits. According to data gathered by panelist Dawn Falleur from the Green Environmental Coalition, burning up to just 20 percent tires as a partial fuel versus using 100 percent coal has been shown to increase the air concentration levels of dioxins by 50 to 100 percent, lead by 380 percent, arsenic by 165 percent and chromium by 700 percent. Those toxins have been linked to cancers, reproductive defects, lung problems, nerve damage and immune system suppression, according to Falleur’s research.
Community members also expressed concern that much of the data showing that the use of tire fuel reduces emissions comes from testing modules that use tire-derived fuel, or tires churned into crumbs, which does not apply to Cemex’s use of whole tires. Molly Lunde, who is in her second trimester of pregnancy, wondered whether she should subject herself as a lab rat to the test with the hope that emissions don’t rise. Marcia Wallgren urged the regulators to consider the economic impact on the surrounding area, which draws people to visit and to live because of its green features, such as Glen Helen, the bike path and John Bryan State Park, which could be endangered by industries that pollute.
“Tire burning could deter people from coming here,” Wallgren said, adding that she wanted to see “plans to ensure those moving here that they are safe.”
Nadia Malarkey and Roi Qualls both urged Cemex to use its influence to be a model leader in the industry by striving to cut emissions below the legal limit and investing in research to reduce emissions.
“I’d be a lot more supportive of this if the goal was to cut emissions, not just achieve an even exchange — that’s a low goal,” Qualls said. “We all want less pollutants and good cement and for you to stay in business, but we want you to have higher goals.”
In the interest of getting the most rigorous surveillance system of its toxic emissions, resident Paul Gibbs, a physician, asked whether Cemex, being such a large company, couldn’t afford to install a Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS), which could avoid suspicions of emissions exceeding the permit limit in between the periodic testing required by RAPCA.
“We want continuity and transparency, and we’re asking RAPCA and the EPA to require CEMS that feeds into a public database,” Gibbs said. “I want this thing to succeed because I want to be able to continue to buy organic tomatoes that were grown downwind of the plant and trust that it’s safe to eat.”
Current air quality
According to both McCormick from Cemex and Paul from RAPCA, the Fairborn plant has demonstrated consistent compliance with its federal and state permit regulations, and therefore, CEMS has not been necessary.
According to RAPCA’s 12 air quality monitors located in six counties, including one on top of the Bryan Center building, the level of all toxins but one is within federal limits, Paul said. Greene County is currently in “non attainment” status for particulate matter, having surpassed the standard of 35 on the monitors, which show the level to be 36 or 37, Paul said. But for toxins including ozone (smog), sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, the county’s air is within the parameters of what the government feels is safe for the “most immuno-compromised population,” meaning children and the elderly.
“We think the air quality in this area is good,” Paul said.
Even though in 2006 Cemex was the number one emitter of toxic particulate matter (339 tons/year) in the surrounding six-county region, and the number two emitter of nitrous oxides (just behind DP&L and ahead of Cargill, Appleton Papers and Wright Patterson Air Force Base), the company still falls within its permitted regulations and will be allowed to test a recombination of its fuel sources this year.
Paul emphasized the fact that Cemex is legally allowed to apply directly for a permit to burn tires as a fuel without a test burn, but that the company agreed to do a test burn first using continuous emissions monitors to evaluate the emissions impact of burning tires. RAPCA will compare Cemex’s tire burn data with data from other air quality agencies across the country and will scrutinize in particular the levels of the nitrous oxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, dioxins and furans, metals and trace hydrocarbons.
If the emissions are over the federal limits, Cemex can still apply for a major permit to burn tires permanently, but it would need federal approval to do so, Paul said. If the emissions fell within its currently permitted limits, Cemex would need only apply for a minor permit with the state, Paul said. Paul also assured meeting participants that RAPCA would share the test data it collected from Cemex with the public and ask for input from the community.
“We will make certain they meet the law, do extensive testing and stay within the limits of state and federal rules,” he said. “The test results will be subject to public review and comment.”
“This is a test, and we want the opportunity to show you our results,” McCormick said. “We want to show you that what we’re doing is in everybody’s best interest.”
Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. McCormick can be contacted at the Fairborn Cemex at 879-8337.