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Tire burn raises concerns

Last May, after having been turned down in 2006 due to earlier air emissions and kiln violations, Cemex’s Fairborn cement plant 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. On Wednesday night, Oct. 15, the Green Environmental Coalition held a public meeting to provide information and organize community support in opposition to Cemex’s plans to conduct tire burn testing in Fairborn. The meeting, which was moderated by Kathleen Boutis, featured a panel composed of GEC Director Dawn Falleur, biologist Vickie Hennessy, anatomical pathologist Chris Rolitsky, and local attorney Cindy Greene. It drew a standing room only crowd to the Bryan Community Center’s rooms A and B.

According to Falleur, Cemex, which is the third largest cement manufacturer in the world, has an extra incentive to burn scrap tires, because the state will pay them to do so, in order to get rid of some of the three million scrap tires the state collects every year. Cemex could apply for a federal permit to burn tires without conducting the testing, she said, but the company wants to do everything just right. If Cemex can keep emissions within limits that are acceptable to the Ohio EPA, they will not have to apply to the federal government.

GEC got its start in 1991 when it successfully rallied citizens against Southwestern Portland Cement, Cemex’s predecessor, when they started burning hazardous waste. In 1994 GEC won a ruling from the Ohio EPA that prevents Cemex from storing hazardous waste at the plant.

“Over the years Southwestern and Cemex have considered tire burning, because they would be paid to do it,” Falleur told the group. “But we smacked them down quickly.”

The reversal by Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski of his earlier decision to deny Cemex’s application has Falleur concerned and once again rallying the citizenry. Korleski’s decision was based in part on the need for scrap tire disposal, she said.

According to Falleur, Cemex has to give a 60-day notice to Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, or RAPCA, the Ohio EPA’s enforcement arm, before conducting its first test tire burn. Cemex will not be permitted to burn tires for more than two 60-day periods, and the company will also be required to perform continuous emissions monitoring for total hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Cemex leaders originally said they would conduct their first test sometime this summer. When that did not happen, they changed their projection to this December. But in a situation that has Falleur heartened, they had not yet given notice by the time of the meeting. They have one year from the May 16, 2008 date of issue of the permit to conduct a trial burn.

“They are pushing the limit,” Falleur said.

Speculation about the delay includes the notion that Cemex wants to conduct the test under ideal conditions, which might require extensive preparation of their kiln and stack and the fact that continuous emissions monitors, also called CEMS, are expensive and difficult to install. According to Falleur, Cemex plans to rent the CEMS, which she takes to mean that they have no intention of installing them on a permanent basis.

Regarding the Ohio EPA’s concern with disposing of tires, Falleur pointed out that there are a number of uses for the tires, the side benefit of which would be economic development. Crumb rubber, when combined with asphalt, can double the life of pavement, she said, and other uses are playground and athletic surfaces, landscaping mulch, molded products, and other construction materials.

“Burning tires can hurt their recyclable uses,” she said.

Hennessy reported to the group that she had made a presentation to the school board at its last meeting and they had asked her to draft a letter to RAPCA, Cemex, and the OEPA, indicating their support of GEC’s opposition to the tire burn.

“There are no limits for the pollutants they are testing for,” Hennessy said of the CEMS, “no penalties.”

The tests will be a before-and-after comparison that looks for significant emissions increases over what currently exist from burning coal. She is concerned with the particulate plume that extends well beyond Yellow Springs, which is downwind from the facility.

“Particulate emissions are a magnet for the toxic substances of emissions,” she said. “CEMS don’t mean anything without limits.”

Rolitsky told the group that the safest way to burn tires is to design a plant from the bottom up with proper after burners. Burning tires in an older facility, such as the Cemex Fairborn plant, is the worst way to do it, he said.

“We need more people to be outraged to stop this,” Rolitsky said, going down a long list of toxic chemicals and heavy metals that result from the burning of tires. “Burning tires might be okay in a well designed, operated and maintained plant, but Cemex already has a bad record.”

Cement kilns, by their nature, do not provide enough oxygen to burn tires, as the process of making cement requires a low-oxygen burn, Rolitsky said. He also pointed out that Cemex will be burning whole tires, as opposed to tire-derived fuel or two-inch shreds of tire.

“The problem with burning whole tires is incomplete combustion. Tires don’t burn as cleanly as crumb rubber,” he said. “We bear all the risks and get none of the benefit. The state gets rid of tires.”

Rolitsky told the group he is tired of diagnosing cancer “at the tail end of this,” so he wants to do something at the front end.

Greene told the group that the community can get Cemex to agree to things. A negotiated agreement between OEPA and Cemex becomes part of the permit, she said.

According to Greene, one of the consequences of Cemex obtaining a permanent permit at this point is that the company would be grandfathered in, in spite of new legislation that might come down in the future.

“Currently, the EPA has no limitations on mercury emissions,” she said.

Clipboards were passed around the room for volunteers to sign up to help. T-shirts and yard signs were available for purchase, with the proceeds going to fund GEC’s efforts. Enthusiastic audience members talked about organizing protests similar to what had been done in the early nineties. No one seemed to want to leave after the presentation was over.

“Groups like ours are fighting this all over the world,” Falleur said.

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