Local residents not sure what to think about Lafarge North America’s bid to burn 4.8 million scrap tyres a year as fuel in its nearby Alpena cement plant, according to the local environmental group Friends of Hudson, which claims it has not yet taken a stance on Lafarge’s proposal - but is clearly alarmed by it.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has offered Lafarge’s plan up to public scrutiny. A public hearing will be held Aug. 25 and the public can comment on it until Sept. 2. After considering the comments, the agency will then approve, reject or take a closer look at the plan.
Lafarge wants to burn whole tyres to replace up to 20 percent of its fuel - it currently burns coal and coke, a coal byproduct - to save money in its plant, which produces nearly 2Mt of cement each year. It also is pitching the concept as a solution for the state’s waste tyre problem. "It’s an environmental benefit - the reduction of tires before they enter the waste stream," said David Vahue, Lafarge’s community relations manager.
Friends of Hudson is skeptical about that benefit, pointing out that the policy of both state and federal environmental agencies is that reusing and recycling old tyres are preferable to burning them. It backs ongoing efforts from state transportation and construction agencies to use tyres as fill for roads and other uses.
The group also raises questions about the health impacts of burning tires. The DEC in its summary of Lafarge’s application says that the increase in certain heavy metals - like lead, mercury and cadmium - will "remain well within" permissible levels. But when Friends of Hudson released those data in April, both Lafarge and the DEC said it was misleading. Vahue noted that in all of 2004, the plant was only out of compliance for less than two hours: less than one-fifth of one per cent of the cement maker’s total operating hours.
And DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren offered a rare public rebuke of the environmental group, saying "Friends of Hudson’s assertions are misleading and are based upon a misinterpretation of state and federal air regulations." Friends of Hudson attorney Jeff Baker said Tuesday that he still thinks that Lafarge’s compliance record is significant.