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September 11, 2002
Hazardous Waste as Fuel: Conservation or Corporate Irresponsibility?
by William Baue
The cement industry calls the use of hazardous waste to fuel cement kilns recycling while critics
of the practice call it dangerous.
In July, the Cement Sustainability
Initiative (CSI) released Our Agenda for Action, a report that
details the global cement industry's plans to implement sustainable practices. World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
President Bjorn Stigson praised the report as the first instance of an industry critiquing its
sustainability performance and proposing specific plans for improvement. However, critics remain
dubious of the cement industry's actual commitment to sustainability.
have followed the industry (including scientists, health professionals, and former regulators,
along with grassroots activists) have expressed doubts that the 'Sustainability' initiative is
anything more than empty rhetoric," Sam Pratt, executive director of Friends of Hudson, told
SocialFunds.com. Friends of Hudson
opposes the construction of a cement kiln in New York by St. Lawrence Cement (ticker: ST.A).
St. Lawrence is a subsidiary of Switzerland-based Holcim Ltd., a member of CSI.
industry has learned how to co-opt the language of the environmental movement, dressing up their
activities in a 'green' mantle that hides a multitude of ugly practices," continued Mr. Pratt.
"For example, the dangerous but highly profitable use of hazardous waste as fuel for their kilns
has lately been repositioned as 'recycling' and 'alternative fuel sources. '"
Agenda for Action addresses the use of waste as fuel, though it elides the term "hazardous."
"Using these wastes is a key service that cement companies can provide to society," the
report states. "As well as reducing the amount of fossil fuel needed to produce cement, it
prevents large volumes of material from going to landfill or being burned in incinerators."
Although this description tells only part of the story, cement companies are not skirting the
law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows cement kilns to burn hazardous waste
even though the kilns are not designed for this purpose. EPA research has found kilns that burn
hazardous waste emit much more pollution than kilns that do not burn hazardous waste. They also
emit more pollution than incinerators designed to burn hazardous waste. So why use cement kilns to
burn hazardous waste?
Holcim U.S. Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Tom
Chizmadia told SocialFunds.com about the economic benefits of using hazardous waste as fuel. Fuel
costs account for one-quarter to one-third of cement manufacturing expenses, according to Mr.
Chizmadia. Hazardous waste producers actually pay cement companies for providing disposal
services. From an economic perspective, this solution generates income and energy from hazardous
waste, which otherwise has no suitable value according to Mr. Chizmadia.
The American Lung
Association (ALA) contends that burning hazardous waste in certified incinerators does generate
clear value for society.
"Proponents of the use of hazardous waste fuel argue that kilns
recycle the energy value of waste whereas incinerators do not," states an ALA report. "However, both hazardous waste
burning kilns and incinerators use the [combustion] value of waste to perform tasks society deems
important; producing cement in one case; detoxifying dangerous chemicals in the other."
other words, cement kilns do not detoxify dangerous chemicals effectively but instead create health
and environmental threats, according to the ALA. Furthermore, cement kilns do not always operate
or employ pollution-reduction equipment properly, despite the threat of regulatory fines.
"Even the largest fines which have come to our attention (over $550,000 for Holcim's Dundee,
Michigan plant in 1999, over $800,000 for their Holly Hills plant in the Carolinas in the early
90s) are the corporate equivalent of a parking ticket for an ordinary citizen," said Mr. Pratt.
Mr. Chizmadia clarified that the Dundee plant does not burn hazardous waste, though he did
admit that the fine resulted from the use of older pollution-control equipment that had been slated
for replacement. Mr. Pratt pointed out that the fine covered nineteen years of violations.
"The EPA wrote . . . that the amount imposed by the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality was, in fact, so low that it probably would serve as an incentive for the company to
continue such practices, not a deterrent," said Mr. Pratt.
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