SOUTH GLENS FALLS — Lehigh Northeast Cement Co.’s effort to reassure local officials that burning raggertail won’t hurt the environment backfired badly Wednesday night.
The plant is seeking state approval to burn raggertail, a combination of plastic and paper. It looks like paper but feels wiry.
South Glens Falls Village Board members have criticized the proposal and are asking the state to extend the public comment period and schedule a public hearing. When they got a response from the plant, they were horrified.
A test burning of the raggertail produced mercury and dioxins, which were emitted into the air that sweeps down into South Glens Falls.
GLENS FALLS — More details on Lehigh Northeast Cement Company’s proposed air permit changes released Wednesday afternoon continue to leave que…
The amounts of each pollutant were well below the federal limit, the cement plant emphasized.
But the message only served to inform the Village Board members of exactly how much pollution is allowed into their air.
“Most scary was the mercury. It really bothered me. I didn’t know about that,” board member Tony Girard said at Wednesday’s meeting. “No wonder the governor’s doing a cancer study of our area.”
Board members began researching the issue and discovered that local companies are allowed to put a great deal of pollution into the air.
They began to wonder if they could even trust that companies were sticking to the required limits.
“Are they using quality particle counters that are accurate?” asked board member Christine Elms, a member of the Green Party.
She contacted her party chairman, who said the raggertail was unstudied.
“There’s basically no data or evidence to the public,” she said. “No other factory is using the industrial waste as fuel.”
The board’s research of raggertail indicated it’s “pretty nasty stuff,” Girard said.
But they also learned that the plant burns coal now.
It was one of many unpleasant surprises.
They quickly turned to strategy. A town in Connecticut managed to fight off a trash burning proposal. In New York, Coeymans is considering a law banning large-scale burning of waste. The law would also set strict air emission standards on mercury, sulfur dioxide, dioxins/furans and nitrogen oxide – many of the same chemicals produced by plants locally. The town also wants to monitor smokestacks for pollutants.
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The same law might not help South Glens Falls, because most of the polluters are outside the village limits, but board members wondered if they could get Queensbury and Glens Falls to discuss the issue.
“I don’t understand why Queensbury and Glens Falls has been silent on it,” Girard said of the cement plant proposal.
He said municipalities need to step up because the Department of Environmental Conservation is understaffed.
Board members decided to start by having their attorney draft a letter on the issue while preparing for a possible DEC public hearing, at which they could fight further.
Mayor Harry Gutheil wants to see the full report on the raggertail burning test. He also wants Glens Falls and Queensbury to join him in researching the Coeymans law and looking at the “total air impact” from all the local companies.
But he said he also wants to hear from Lehigh.
“You want to hear all sides and you want to hear from experts,” he said.
In an emailed statement to The Post-Star, Lehigh said through its spokesman that it’s not possible to have no air pollution from the plant.
“Lehigh and any business that relies on burning fuel for electricity or heat, or to produce products for people’s use, would be unable to operate if no air emissions were allowed,” the statement said.
Lehigh noted that National Grid burns coal to produce electricity and that gasoline in cars and even lawn mowers generate air pollution, which Lehigh called “air emissions.”
Lehigh uses fuel to cook limestone in the cement-making process.
“Federal and state regulators require the use of emission control technologies on furnaces, cement kilns and cars, but these technologies are unable to remove 100 percent of the chemicals that are released when materials are burned,” the statement said.
Some chemicals come from the fuel but others come from what is being burned. Mercury is in both the fuel and in limestone, Lehigh said. Limestone is a primary component of cement.
“Regulators recognize the limitations of emission-control technologies and impose strict limits on what can be emitted based on their evaluation of what is protective of human health and the environment,” the statement said. “Lehigh and other manufacturers operate their facilities under stringent permits that require us to keep our emissions within certain standards.”
The company also noted that new regulations in 2015 reduced those pollution limits further. Lehigh had to make a “significant investment” to upgrade its emission control.
Switching to raggertail could make things even better, the company said. Testing showed that “total emissions from the plant will decrease” because of the raggertail, according to the company’s statement.
The company also said it would have been “easy” to close the plant in 2015 instead of upgrading the emission controls, but it was not clear where the company would have moved its cement-making operation in that case.