With six more months to complete research, Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant is confident it will solve a mysterious plume that has plagued the site for the past several months. The six-month extension was unanimously supported by the Kern County Air Pollution District board at a hearing in Tehachapi on 5 January (reports the Tehachapi News).
David Whitney, Lehigh Environmental Engineer, requested the extension so the company could complete its research on what is causing a detached plume that periodically emits from the stack. He said that to date, Lehigh has spent approximately $140,000 in its effort to solve the problem. “It appears, right now, that iron is the culprit,” said Jim Simmons, spokesman for the cement plant.
Simmons said the plant uses small amounts of iron in the production of cement and that the iron is obtained from two sources. He said it has been determined that whenever a plume appears, it has been with the use of one specific source of iron. According to Simmons, the extension gives the company time to operate with other variables, like temperature, so they can be certain whether the plume is caused by the iron.
He said the iron is the No. 1 component researchers are studying. However, he said, if the research proves that the iron is not the cause, they will make operational changes such as adjusting the temperature in the kiln and injecting water in the final process of the cement production. Simmons said that injection of the water in the final stage of production has been proven to be helpful in preventing the plume.