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Officials question cement plant's study results of burning paper-plastic mixture

Officials question cement plant's study results of burning paper-plastic mixture


GLENS FALLS — More details on Lehigh Northeast Cement Company’s proposed air permit changes released Wednesday afternoon continue to leave questions unanswered for some local officials.

The cement company is looking to burn raggertail, an approximately 60 percent plastic, 40 percent paper mixture, as an alternative fuel source to coal and natural gas. While the company has gone through a test trial run, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will next decide whether to update its air permit to burn raggertail on a more regular basis.

Lehigh released a new fact sheet Wednesday night detailing that four pollutants, including mercury, hydrocarbons, filterable particulate and dioxin, were detected, but well below DEC’s permitted limits.

Judith Enck, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency director of Region 2 and currently a senior adviser at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the fact sheet was too little, too late, considering the DEC’s comment period ends Friday.

She questioned the validity of the company’s information, too.

“The issuance of a skimpy and unconvincing public statement two days before the NYS DEC public comment period is scheduled to close does little to address legitimate public concerns about this proposal and illustrates the need for an Environmental Impact Statement,” she wrote in an emailed comment to The Post-Star on Thursday. “The company shared its own test results, not done independently, which shows no increase in dioxin and furan emissions. This is not credible since burning large quantities of plastics results in the formation of dioxin and furans. In these situations, companies self-test and test under what they consider ideal operating conditions.”

Claudia Braymer, Glens Falls Ward 3 Warren County supervisor and member of the Glens Falls Sustainability Committee, said after reviewing the fact sheet she still had questions, too, including whether an independent study had been done for comparison.

She also wanted to know what else raggertail emits into the area, and see a comparison to burning natural gas. Coal, she wrote, does not seem to be a good comparison since the plant doesn’t typically burn it.

John Brodt, vice president of Behan Communications and spokesman for Lehigh, said he was trying to track down the answers to those lingering questions as of Thursday evening.

Dave Dreyer, plant manager for Lehigh Hanson, told The Post-Star during a tour of the plant on Dec. 4 that generally it operates on natural gas, but it can get expensive during the winter. The company stockpiles coal near its kiln to use intermittently during the winter, but raggertail would provide an alternative fuel source at a time when the plant is working to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to not use coal by 2020.

Braymer said the Glens Falls Sustainability Committee was also going to ask Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall to request DEC to extend the public comment period. The village of South Glens Falls has said it would like more time and a public hearing.

Hall did not return calls for comment Wednesday or Thursday, nor did he answer an email seeking comment on Thursday.

“We could use more time to review the situation and provide meaningful comments to DEC,” Braymer wrote in an email to The Post-Star. “Given that the Governor (Andrew Cuomo) is studying Warren County because we have the highest rate of cancer in the state, DEC should be very concerned about the release of dioxins and furans, which, according to DEC, may cause cancer.”

The Post-Star reached out to DEC on Thursday to see if it was extending the public comment period or holding a public hearing. The DEC emailed the same quote as it did on Wednesday, which in summation said it reviewed emissions data from the cement company’s consultant “and determined that these emissions would not result in ambient air impacts above DEC’s guidelines.”

The agency added the same quote, too, that it would be continuing its regular monitoring.

The agency did clarify that it will review all comments during the permit review process, including requests to extend the comment period.

In its statement Wednesday night, Lehigh said it is under economic pressures after a new cement plant opened in Canada.

“Our nearly 100 employees are working hard to keep our costs competitive while maintaining a safe working environment and delivering high-quality products and services,” the statement read. “The introduction of Raggertail as a partial substitute for fossil fuels will help their effort immensely by dramatically lowering our fuel costs, which represent more than 25 percent of our total production costs, all while continuing to be mindful of our environmental responsibilities. We hope you have found this information to be informative, and our proposal to utilize this alternative fuel, along with DEC’s issuance of the permit, to be reasonable and responsible as we fight to remain a contributing member of our region’s economy and to produce locally made products for our homes, businesses, roads and bridges.”

Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.


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