Hillary Clinton and LaFarge Cement
toxic waste incineration fuels cement kilns
Hillary Clinton was on the board of directors of LaFarge cement when they shifted from burning natural gas to burning toxic wastes to heat their cement kilns. Toxic waste incineration synthesizes thousands of new chemicals that do not occur in nature. Many of them, especially those based on chlorine, are bio accumulators and disruptive to mammalian life forms. Burning hazardous wastes with petrochemicals and chlorine create new "products of incomplete combustion" that are among the most toxic substances invented during the 20th century, including dioxins and furans, which are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic.
Hillary was also involved in legal work for the notorious WTI (Waste Technologies Industries) toxic waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, located next to an elementary school and financed by Arkansas based banker Jackson Stephens. Perhaps the Clintons could recommend that the citizens of that sad town should not inhale.
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance
Burning waste in cement kilns is another form of incineration, and it wastes resources and results in emissions that are harmful to people's health.
In order to make cement, high temperature kilns (reaching temperatures of up to 1500°C) are needed to produce the clinker that is ultimately ground up and made into cement. Traditionally, coal is used in these kilns, but in the past two decades many "alternative fuels" have been used. The term "alternative fuel" has often been used to disguise the fact that this "fuel" is actually waste.
Cement kilns are neither properly designed for this purpose, nor are they held to the same regulatory standard as other incinerators.
The types of waste that cement companies try to burn include used solvents, spent tires, waste oil, paint residue, biomass such as wood chips, treated wood and paper, municipal solid waste, medical waste, and sewage sludge. These are added, along with coal, to the kilns. The cement industry uses these materials because they are generally cheaper than coal, and in some instances the kilns are actually paid for using them or can claim carbon credits because they are not using fossil fuels.
While it is claimed that the very high temperatures and long residency times within cement kilns result in high incineration efficiency and low emissions, cement kilns are simply not designed for burning waste. And because they are not regarded as incinerators, they generally avoid having to meet incinerator emissions regulations.
12 years ago this week in Metro Times: Monte Paulsen follows a group of Greenpeace “commandos” as they hang an anti-incinerator banner on the 250-foot-tall smokestack of the Lafarge cement plant in Alpena. The story covers loopholes in environmental law that allow 90 percent of the country’s chemical waste to be burned in large cement plants rather than in specialized hazardous waste incinerators.
in Detroit Metro Times, 1993.
Behind enemy lines with the granola commandos
By Monte Paulsen
[note: this article is no longer available from the Detroit Metro Times website and the personal website of the author is not on line anymore. Fair Use only.]
Hillary Clinton is a former member of Lafarge's board of directors --- a work-free job for which she received about $31,000 a year
Thunder Bay was silent that morning -- except, of course,
for the familiar rumbling of the giant Lafarge cement plant in Alpena
-- and desolate,
too, except for the white minivan parked near its northern shore. Inside the
van, all that could be heard was the heavy breathing of the Greenpeace warriors
who had come to raid the plant.
A walkie-talkie broke the silence at 04:30.
"Beth to Carlos. Come in. Over."
The van's driver responded. "Carlos here. Go ahead. Over."
"This place is really dead. Are you ready? Over."
The driver looked around at the men and women crouched in the van. They wore loose, dark clothes and held blackened rucksacks filled with everything from climbing gear and custom radios to Baldy Eagle and Woodsy the Owl costumes. They nodded.
"Yeah. We're ready," said the driver.
"Well, birds, I say we do it," crackled the radio.
The van rolled up the narrow gravel road with its lights off. The climbers rechecked their shoelaces and climbing harnesses. Then, barely visible in the moonlight, something appeared directly in front of them.
"Deer!" someone yelled. It was 10 feet in front of the van.
The driver hit the brakes. The deer leapt into the bushes. The people resumed breathing.
"It's OK. It's OK," said the man clutching a Smokey the Bear costume, as much to himself as anyone else. "It's a good omen."
The van crested the hill and sped toward the well-lit plant. Its wheels spun in the loose gravel as the van pulled a quick U-turn and slid to a stop alongside a chain-link fence.
The sliding door flew open with a "whooosh."
Bitter cold air rushed in as the Greenpeace commandos scrambled out, leapt the fence and charged toward the giant, ever-rumbling ovens that release more than a half-million pounds of potentially toxic waste every year.
Alpena is a city that greets its visitors with a giant yellow smiley
face painted on a water tower at the edge of town. How this friendly
city became host to the largest hazardous waste incinerator in Michigan
is a sad story of good intentions betrayed by congressional confusion
and corporate self-interest.
The story begins with passage of the 1976 Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act --- better known as RCRA, which jargon-savvy bureaucrats pronounce "rickra."
Ever since the industrial revolution, hazardous wastes have been created in ever-increasing quantities. They range from exotic manufacturing chemicals to used motor oil. Until RCRA, most of these were simply buried. But the discovery that hazardous waste dumps like Love Canal were oozing into community drinking water prompted Congress to ban the burial of most raw chemical wastes.
At the same time Congress was drafting RCRA, the mainstream environmental movement was advocating that flammable wastes be "recycled" into energy. So Congress, concerned about the country's dependence on foreign oil, offered an incentive designed to promote the "recovery" of these wastes: Any industry that substituted chemical waste for fuel would be exempt from RCRA's other stringent requirements.
Though this little-known loophole would prove to be worth billions, the cement industry was initially cool to idea. "We tried to generate interest in kiln incineration during the mid-'70s," recalled Thomas Wittman, co-founder of Systech, a company that prepares hazardous waste for use as fuel. "But the cement industry wasn't very interested. Their fuel costs were still quite low."
Congress sweetened the deal in 1980 with an amendment proposed by Alabama Congressman Tom Bevill, the son of a coal miner. The Bevill amendment exempted coal ash and cement kiln dust from RCRA's strict disposal guidelines --- at least until the EPA decided whether or not this dust was hazardous. (Thirteen years later, the EPA has still not made that determination.)
The Bevill amendment gave cement kilns a significant competitive advantage over other waste-to-energy plants seeking to burn hazardous materials. For while commercial waste incinerators --- such as the hotly protested Waste Technologies Inc. plant in East Liverpool, Ohio --- were required to pay upwards of $1,000 a ton to dispose of their ash in sealed landfills, cement kilns could dump their waste on site for free.
In 1984, Congress once again amended RCRA, this time to require that any waste-burning cement kiln located in a city of 500,000 or more people meet the more stringent rules placed on commercial hazardous waste incinerators. The amendment was offered by Dallas-Fort Worth Rep. Martin Frost, who was then battling a cement maker in his district.
Through these seemingly unrelated acts --- and despite of a growing body of evidence that the emissions from waste-burning cement kilns would prove hazardous to human health and the environment --- Congress created a situation in which the most cost-effective way to dispose of the nation's five million tons a year of liquid hazardous waste was to burn it in small-town cement kilns such as Alpena's.
Today, about 24 of the nation's roughly 110 cement plants have "interim status" operating permits that allow them to burn hazardous waste. Ninety percent of the liquid hazardous waste and two-thirds of the sludge and solid hazardous waste incinerated in this country is burned in cement kilns, according to an EPA source.
And through it all, the cement industry has managed to keep the facts about this multibillion-dollar loophole a secret from the vast majority of citizens, lawmakers and even environmentalists.
Xeroxed maps, spiral notebooks, a dozen photographs of the cement plant
and a half-eaten pizza lay scattered across a table at the campground
where the Greenpeace commandos bivouacked on the eve of their attack.
There were six of them altogether: a three-person climbing team, a ground support person, an action coordinator and a campaign coordinator. The climbers were Mabel Olivera, a phone canvasser in Greenpeace's Chicago office; Bill Busse, head of the St. Paul office; and Karen Hudson, a Michigan native who directs Greenpeace's Ann Arbor office. Bob Lyon of the Chicago staff was to support them from the ground.
Coordinating the action was Beth, a member of Greenpeace's direct action team. The only member of the team who does these sorts of law-breaking actions full-time, Beth did not want her last name used. It was her job to plan the action, to ensure the safety of her climbers and to uphold Greenpeace's code of nonviolence.
Coordinating media coverage and driving the van was Charlie Cray, a midwest organizer with Greenpeace's U.S. toxics campaign.
The ragtag team had spent the past two days rehearsing their maneuver in Ann Arbor. Beth drilled them until they were able to exit the van, hop an 8-foot fence and enter the tube that runs up the stack in less than 45 seconds. While climbing a smokestack and hanging a banner is nowhere near as risky as some of Greenpeace's famous high-seas actions, the team was nonetheless prepared for the worst. During a similar Florida action, climbers were threatened with gunfire.
During the final late-night hours before their departure, the team reviewed everything from what to eat to how to deal with the backwash of a helicopter. At the next campsite over, a group of hunters were laughing loudly while drinking beer and cleaning their guns. Beth and her team spoke in whispers as they prepared to go into battle armed with nothing more dangerous than a granola bar.
By 2:30 a.m., the granola commandos were finally ready to deploy.
Cement is made pretty much the same way it was when the Huron Portland
Cement Company built its first kiln on the eastern edge of Alpena in
Limestone is taken from the quarry --- an awesome hole that's now more than a mile across and almost 200 feet deep --- is crushed and mixed with shale. The blend is fed into a long, cylindrical kiln and heated to 2700 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the rock melts into a new material that cement-makers call "clinker." The clinker is then ground with gypsum to make cement, which is mixed with water, sand and gravel to make concrete.
But the business of making cement has changed dramatically.
National Gypsum bought the sprawling plant in 1957, and ran it for almost 30 years. But during the early '80s, the cost of the fuel needed to fire Alpena's five aging kilns rose sharply at the same time the demand for cement dropped in troubled cities like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. In 1986, National Gypsum closed the plant and laid off all 640 employees.
The Lafarge Corporation bought the plant and quarry in 1987. Lafarge, the U.S. subsidiary of a Paris-based multinational corporation with annual sales in excess of $5.5 billion, was primarily interested in National Gypsum's network of Great Lakes distribution terminals, but took the aging Alpena plant as part of a package deal.
Lafarge began cutting operating costs at Alpena immediately. It imported new managers and rehired only 180 of the local employees, busting the union in the process. And Lafarge claims it has already spent nearly $100 million dollars to modernize the aging plant. Among these improvements was the addition of a rail terminal to receive tank cars of hazardous waste.
Lafarge had purchased Systech Environmental Corporation --- the alternative fuels company started by Tom Wittman --- in 1986. With the acquisition of Ohio-based Systech, Lafarge became the only cement producer to be vertically integrated into the hazardous waste disposal business. Systech and Lafarge quickly upped the quantity of hazardous waste being burned at Alpena.
Two of Lafarge's five Alpena kilns burned 12.8 million gallons of flammable hazardous waste last year, according to Systech Site Manager Gil Peterson. Lafarge has applied for permits to burn hazardous waste in its other three kilns. If approved, the Alpena plant would become the largest hazardous waste-burning facility in North America.
Most of the hazardous waste burned at Lafarge is used auto paint and industrial solvents. During 1992, these were shipped to Alpena came from as far away as Alaska, according to Systech shipping manifests obtained from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). About 37 percent of Alpena's waste was imported from Canada.
Roughly 26 percent of the waste burned in Alpena was supplied by three Detroit-area waste blenders --- City Environmental, Michigan Recovery Systems and Nortru, Inc. These companies collect hazardous wastes from many smaller companies, mix them together in a big blender and pay Systech to take the resulting witches' brew.
City Environmental, for example, took hazardous waste from more than 900 sites in 1992, according to the MDNR records. These ranged from auto body shops and small manufacturers to Boblo Island. And though some providers may have been under the impression that City Environmental was "recycling" those wastes, in fact a full 80 percent of the 2,585 tons of liquid hazardous waste listed on City Environmental's manifest wound up in Systech's hands.
Over the course of a year, there's more hazardous waste shipped to Alpena each year than there was oil spilled in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez.
Though Bill Busse had studied the reconnaissance photos of the Lafarge
stack, he didn't get his first good look at the 250-foot monster itself
until just before he leapt out of the van.
"That thing is huge," he gasped.
Karen and Mabel made it to the base of the stack ahead of him, and started up the tube. Bill was right on their heels, but he was having problems with his harness. About a quarter of the way up, he stopped to adjust it. In order to retie his harness, he had to remove his pack. And while he was struggling to fix the harness in the dark, his pack slipped and fell 70 feet to the ground.
Bill had no choice but to climb back down after it. Karen and Mabel continued climbing, looking like ants against the giant structure.
By the time he got to the bottom, Bill was already tired. He was still having problems with his harness. And he was scared that his presence there would attract attention to the two women above him.
Beth, who was lying in the bushes across the road, made a command decision. She sent Bob over the fence to take Bill's place. Within a minute, Bob and Bill had traded packs, Bob was on his way up the tube and Bill was scurrying back across the road to join Beth in the brush.
Karen, still working her way up the stack, saw a figure approach the tube and radioed Beth.
"We've got a person at the bottom. Over."
"It's OK Woodsy," said Beth. "Smokey's on his way up. Over."
Once Bob was halfway up, he and Mabel fastened a barricade across the tube in order to prevent anyone from following them. By 6 a.m. the barricade was in place and the climbers were safe. Within minutes, the first light of dawn began creeping across Lake Huron.
Beth's cheered them from the bushes: "Way to go, birds!"
The inside of a cement kiln is the closest thing to hell on earth.
Fire rushes everywhere at once, gasping hungrily after every last breath
of oxygen foolish enough to enter its frenzied domain. Limestone glows
red hot. And in Lafarge's Alpena kilns, waste oil ignites on arrival
and forms a swiftly flowing fountain of bright white fireworks within
a 17-foot-wide tunnel of flame.
It's hard to imagine anything surviving this place. But the fact is: everything that goes into one end of a cement kiln comes out the other.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups claim cement kiln emissions pose serious threats to human health and the environment. Lafarge and the cement industry insist kiln emissions are safe. There are four basic categories of kiln emissions:
Cement kiln dust, or CKD, is the closest thing to "ash" that comes out of the kiln. Heavy metals from the hazardous waste have been proven to accumulate in the CKD. And a 1992 EPA survey of 15 cement plants found that CKD from kilns that burned hazardous waste contained highly carcinogenic dioxins that CKD from non-waste-burning kilns did not.
Lafarge produces about 1,200 tons of a CKD a day, and dumps it back into the quarry.
Fugitive emissions; are simply airborne CKD. Cement-making has always been a dusty business, and Alpena has always been a dusty town. The plant itself is covered with a thick layer of what looks like grey frost, but is actually 80 years of layer upon thin layer of hardened CKD. This layer, which covers buildings, cars, chain-link fences and even living plants, gives the facility an other-worldy appearance. If the dust is toxic, so is everything else.
Lafarge, which handles more than four million tons of finely ground powder every year, says it's inevitable that a little will blow away. Plant officials and townspeople agree that far less dust has blown through town since the installation of new CKD conveyor systems.
Stack emissions; usually blow east, across Lake Huron. The opaque yellow plume can be seen for miles.
In theory, the 2700 degree kiln is ideal for disposing of dangerous materials such as chlorinated hydrocarbons. Lafarge and other cement kiln operators claim that unearthly heat renders toxic materials safe before releasing them into the environment. Commercial hazardous waste incinerators, by comparison, rarely operate above 1800 degrees Farenheit.
But temperature is not the only factor.
"The high temperature does accelerate the destruction of organic compounds," says Washington-based environmental consultant Ed Kleppinger. "But in a cement kiln, the temperature is in the wrong place. It's at the front end of the kiln. You want it at the back, to finish off anything not already destroyed."
Finally, the cement itself carries a portion of the hazardous waste out of the kiln.
Little is known about the risks of toxic cement. The cement clinker spends an average of six hours in direct contact with hazardous waste, but the cement itself is not tested by either the plant, the MDNR or the EPA. Why not? Because RCRA only requires testing of emissions designated as waste. The cement is a product.
The only known study of cement toxicity was recently completed by a cement industry trade group. That study, which ignored organic compounds such as dioxin, found that levels of toxic heavy metals such as chromium were twice as high in cement produced in waste-burning kilns. Chromium has been linked to lung cancer among cement masons.
"There are potential health consequences," says Dr. Kleppinger. "But for the most part we just don't know. My view is that until we know more, we should label all cement made in hazardous waste kilns." That idea was recently rejected by the cement industry.
The industry admits that cement from waste-burning kilns does contain higher levels of heavy metal, but, as with the all other kiln emissions, they insist that the resulting risk to human health is insignificant.
However, if at some point in the future the EPA should decide that risk is significant --- as it did after asbestos was widely used for decades --- the potential exposure is enormous. Most public water systems are built entirely of cement pipe; and cement is used heavily in the construction of hospitals, schools and other public facilities.
The cost of replacing the 70 to 80 million tons of cement poured in the United States each year would make the billions of dollars currently being spent to remove asbestos look like small change.
Shortly after sunrise, a closed-circuit television monitor mounted
inside the plant's windowless control room provided Lafarge's first glimpse
of the granola commandos atop its tallest stack.
Plant Manager Guy Nevoret, a career Lafarge man with a distinctive French accent, heard the news about 9 a.m. --- after a reporter from the Alpena News called. He was not surprised. "They'd been promising to do something like this for some time," he said.
An hour later, Nevoret and plant PR man Carl Just met with the Greenpeace team coordinators. Nevoret said he was concerned about the climbers' safety, and requested they come down. Greenpeace declined the invitation.
"They wanted to make a show for themselves," said Nevoret. "They wanted to hang their banner and attract the media."
Nevoret did not want the media attention. So he decided not to press charges. Not everyone else in the gathering crowd was as hospitable. A few plant workers cursed the climbers, and among the chatter overheard on the local police radio was an offer --- made in jest --- to "shoot them down."
But beneath Nevoret's cool demeanor lay a quiet sadness.
He is proud of Lafarge's environmental record, and convinced that the plant's emissions pose no threat to human health. Industry studies have found that an individual would receive more exposure to carcinogens by once filling the gas tank of his car than he would from a lifetime spent living downwind from a hazardous waste incinerator.
Also, he has worked hard to make Lafarge a good neighbor to Alpena. Nevoret estimated the plant gives up to $120,000 a year to local charities, on top of employee donations through the United Way.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people in the community support this plant," he said.
"These fellows from Greenpeace simply do not understand the facts," said Nevoret. "I'm convinced --- absolutely convinced --- that they have no reason to take these actions."
In the federal regulatory void created by RCRA, the Michigan Department
of Natural Resources was left to deal with Lafarge on its own. And when
the EPA finally did become involved, it allowed the MDNR to lead enforcement
efforts at Alpena.
The MDNR has cited Lafarge for a wide variety of violations of air, water and waste violations during the past several years. But recent changes within the MDNR appear to be weakening the department's enforcement efforts.
Since 1991, the MDNR has held that when Lafarge began burning hazardous waste as fuel, its CKD became a "special waste" and must be placed in a lined landfill. The limestone quarry to which Lafarge returns its CKD sits close to and 50 feet below of Lake Huron. The MDNR is concerned that heavy metals and toxic chemicals will leach out of the CKD and into the water table. CKD has contaminated ground water at two other cement plants, both of which are now Superfund sites.
Lafarge has thus far ignored the MDNR's requests that it do something else with the CKD. Throughout a long paper trail of notices, violations and related correspondence between Lafarge and MDNR, the company has variously maintained that it is exempt from state regulations, that the CKD is inert and therefore not subject to the regulations, that the company did not understand the regulations, or that penalties are inappropriate until the CKD is proven hazardous.
The rapidly growing CKD dump prompted the MDNR's Gaylord office to nominate the Lafarge site for placement on the state's "Act 307" list of contaminated sites, as required by the Michigan Environmental Response Act. Field staff from that office found large quantities of lead, sulfate, chloride, arsenic and organic compounds in Lafarge's CKD. In April, the Gaylord office gave the plant a preliminary score of 47 of a possible 48 points, placing it among the worst five of more than 3,000 contaminated sites in the state.
And in a letter dated July 1, MDNR waste division head Jim Sygo accused Lafarge of knowingly violating state law by continuing to dump the CKD "without a permit, license or other disposal authorization."
Sygo further noted that Lafarge was profiting from its willful violation of state law. "We calculated the cost of tipping fees for disposal of 1,200 tons a day of CKD at a licensed Act 641 Type II landfill in the northern Michigan area," wrote Sygo. "This cost alone exceeds the $10,000 per day" maximum penalty for breaking the state law.
That it would cost Lafarge less to pay the fines than to obey the law explains plenty about the company's foot-dragging approach to the MDNR, and calls into question whether the state laws are anywhere near tough enough.
But Lafarge has yet to pay a single penny in fines. And a growing number of Alpena residents have called into question whether the MDNR is tough enough on Lafarge. They complain that Lafarge and the MDNR have spent years haggling over what to do with the kiln dust, and there is no deadline for these negotiations to be concluded.
Even more surprising was the Oct. 5 revelation that the Lafarge site had been removed from the Act 307 list by an order from Lansing. MDNR Regional Director Don Inman said that Lafarge was only dropped from the list until negotiations concerning the disposal of the CKD are completed.
But sources inside the MDNR --- who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution --- said this is but the latest of many moves by Governor Engler-appointed brass to circumvent state law and put the interests of private businesses ahead of the public health.
Toward noon, a steady stream of local residents and area newspeople
began dropping by to see the spectacle. Among the first of these was
John Pruden, the co-founder of the Huron Environmental Action League,
better known as HEAL.
Pruden showed up dressed to kill --- literally. He was ready to go hunting when he heard about the action. He showed up wearing cheap boots, faded camouflage pants, a black T-shirt and striped suspenders. With a video camera in one hand and a giant bottle of Diet Pepsi in the other, the red-bearded Pruden looked like a discount-store Rambo.
"Look, I'm not one of these tree huggers," he said, by way of introduction.
Pruden is one of the many local residents who were shocked to learn in 1991 that the plant had been burning hazardous waste since the mid-'80s. In 1992, HEAL turned out almost 1,000 of the town's 12,000 residents to a public forum. Since then the 500-member group's activities have ranged from buying a billboard that warned tourists about the plant to convincing the local school district to stop taking kids on plant field trips.
Pruden, who lives on Devil's River, has been hunting and fishing in this area for most of his 47 years. He believes the wildlife is changing as a result of toxic pollution. He often finds large tumors in the fish he catches. He said that these changes, plus the plant's secrecy, turned him into an activist: "The injustice of it all just blew my mind."
Pruden did not initially support Greenpeace's decision to protest Lafarge. He and other HEAL members worried that the backlash against out-of-town agitators would harm the local work they were doing. Greenpeace launched the action against HEAL's wishes.
"I changed my mind after I heard about the 307 site," said Pruden. "It's like doublespeak. One day the place is hazardous, and the next, it isn't. Not because the place is any different. Just because some asshole in Lansing says so."
Pruden wondered aloud if it might be time for HEAL to change its tactics.
"We've worked within the system. And look what it got us," he said. "They own the system. They own the chamber of commerce. They own the City Council. They own the local media...
"Lafarge spends a lot of money. They make whores of everybody, and they have contempt for the people they've made whores of," said Pruden.
"This is a scandal and a coverup. It's got to be illegal."
But in spite of his cynicism, Pruden, like Rambo, holds on to a stubborn faith. "Somehow, somewhere, someday, somebody is going to hear us."
The EPA's failure to regulate the cement kiln industry has been even
more pronounced than the MDNR's. Said Kleppinger, "You have a regulatory
agency that, rather than regulate an industry, has promoted it."
The EPA's support of cement kiln incineration goes back two decades. Throughout the '70s, EPA doled out grant money to companies that were studying the use of waste as fuel. Systech, for example, depended heavily on EPA support during its early years. And in 1981, the EPA spent $500,000 on a hazardous waste test burn at the San Juan Cement Company in Puerto Rico.
Emissions of heavy metals and other toxins were evident at that test, and at other cement kilns that began burning hazardous waste. But the EPA ignored these problems, claiming their hands were tied by RCRA loopholes that exempted cement kiln incinerators. In 1984 Congress specifically instructed the EPA to regulate cement kiln incineration.
But by this time, many within the EPA had latched on to cement kiln incineration as an easy fix to the bureaucratic nightmare in which they had become entangled. On one hand, Congress had prohibited the burial of hazardous waste; on the other, every community in which industry tried to build a commercial hazardous waste incinerator was fighting tooth and nail against it, and many were winning. Meanwhile, the waste kept piling up. From the myopic viewpoint of an EPA bureaucrat, cement kilns were the perfect solution --- precisely because their use of hazardous waste had thus far been kept a secret from the general public.
So the Reagan-era EPA joined the foot-dragging parade and took seven years to write the rules under which cement kiln incineration would be regulated. As a result, cement kiln operators were essentially unregulated (at the federal level) --- and therefore free to pollute all they wanted --- until 1991.
And when those long-overdue regulations were finally released, they were astonishingly lax. The combined coal and hazardous waste burned by Lafarge, for example, may legally include up to 4 percent chlorine. This "limit" would presently enable Lafarge to pass through its kilns more than 1.5 million gallons of a chemical known to form dioxins and dibenzofurans. And since the federal rules contain no emissions limits for these by-products, Lafarge can legally release whatever dioxin it created into the air above Lake Huron.
But as lax as these new regulations are, the cement kiln industry has still failed to meet them. More than half of the cement kilns inspected in 1992 by the EPA failed to properly analyze the waste they burned, and 62 percent failed to comply with rules for feeding waste into the kilns.
"These violations are with the basic fundamental requirements. They are not with the fine details," stated the document, written by senior EPA staffers. "It appears that some owners and operators may not be taking these rules seriously."
But neither has the EPA, according to EPA hazardous waste specialist Hugh Kaufman. In a scathing May 7 memo to new EPA head Carol Browner, Kaufman described a closed-door meeting between top EPA officials and representatives of the cement kiln hazardous waste industry. Kaufman alleged that "the participants worked on developing a joint strategy to subvert the federal government's enforcement process and procedures regarding the hazardous waste law." Two Lafarge executives were among the 19 industry representatives at the meeting, which was held at EPA headquarters during the final days of the Bush administration.
"No other hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal industry receives this kind of indulgent hand-holding and obsequious collusion as does the cement kiln hazardous waste industry," concluded Kaufman's admonition to Browner, "nor should they."
Ten days after receiving Kaufman's latter, Browner announced an 18-month moratorium on new hazardous waste burning permits. Browner also promised a major overhaul of federal rules governing waste combustion and waste prevention, full health-risk assessments of incinerator operations, and new permits requirements on dioxin and metal emissions.
The Greenpeace banner billowed in the strong winds that blew off Lake
Huron all afternoon. "Don't foul our nest," it read. "Ban
chlorine. Ban the burn. Greenpeace."
The commandos had a quiet afternoon. Bill was snoring in the back seat of the van. But Charlie was busier than he had been all day. Once the climbers were safe and the banner was hung, the action was largely in his hands. Armed with a cellular phone and a notebook filled with phone numbers for everyone from Carol Browner to the local radio station, it was Charlie's job to tell the world what they had done --- and why.
But on this particular day, the world was more interested in the escalation of a war in Somalia and the retirement of a basketball player in Chicago than in the complex reasons that had brought the granola commandos to Alpena. The event received considerable local attention, brief mentions by the regional print and broadcast media, and only a 12-sentence story on the Associated Press wire.
The wire story quoted Charlie once: "It's time for an incinerator moratorium and a ban on the chlorinated compounds that produce dioxin when burned."
Across the street from where Charlie was chatting up one last reporter, the crews of a local ambulance, fire truck and police squad car waited --- just in case --- and argued about Michael Jordan. Since the climbers weren't in any danger and plant wasn't pressing charges, there wasn't much for them to do.
"We ain't gonna do nuthin," said one Alpena police officer. "If they stay up there, we ain't gonna do nuthin. If they come down, we ain't gonna do nuthin. We're just gonna sit here doin' nuthin instead of sittin' in town doin' nuthin."
The money that Lafarge and other waste burning cement makers receive
for taking other companies hazardous waste has improved their bottom
lines significantly, and has changed the ownership structure of the industry.
Lafarge officials would not say exactly how much they make by burning hazardous waste, though Nevoret estimated that, after expenses, the waste netted the company "about a million dollars a year."
That figure, however, is grossly misleading.
A federal railroad administration shipping manifest inspected by HEAL indicated that Lafarge was paid $168,000 for a single rail car of hazardous waste. At 34,000 gallons per car, that's $4.94 a gallon. This estimate is roughly consistent with reports of market prices of $800 a ton for hazardous waste.
If Lafarge earned that much for each of the 12.8 million gallons of hazardous waste it claims to have burned last year, then Lafarge and Systech would have made in the ballpark of $63 million last year on waste fees alone.
That's a significant amount of revenue, especially considering that the same plant probably only made something in the order of $126 million for the 2.1 million tons of cement it made. Based on these rough estimates, Lafarge, together with its Systech subsidiary, is making one-third of its gross revenue from the hazardous waste business.
Whatever the exact numbers, the added revenue available to companies that add hazardous waste to their kilns has given companies such as Lafarge a huge competitive advantage over non-waste-burning cement makers. As a result, all of North America's largest cement makers are now in the business of burning hazardous waste -- and they are using the added profits to squeeze smaller cement makers out of the market.
Since 1985, when President Reagan removed anti-trust barriers, Lafarge and four other European cement makers have acquired control of 75 percent of the U.S. cement market.
"What is in store for the U.S. market can already be seen in Canada," where these European cement makers already control 90 percent of the market, and where "cement prices are among the highest in the world," warned Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Jock Ferguson, writing in The Nation. These companies are under investigation by the European Commission for violations of Common Market antitrust laws. Lafarge was found guilty of price-fixing in France, and hit with a $1.5 million fine.
And these monopoly-minded corporations are intent on keeping their U.S. loopholes as long as possible. They have formed a trade group --- the Cement Kiln Recycling Council --- which has been active in trying to weaken the impact of Carol Browner's promised reforms.
The council and the industry are busy working both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in their effort to convince Washington lawmakers that their use of hazardous waste is "recycling" and should remain protected.
Cement makers gave away more than $85,000 of soft money to the Democratic and Republican parties during the last presidential election --- divided about equally between the camps --- on top of more than $100,000 in donations by individual executives of hazardous waste-burning cement companies during the past five congressional election cycles.
The industry has taken good care of Reagan-Bush era EPA chiefs ousted by Clinton. Most notable among these is F. Henry Habicht II, Bush's No. 2 man at the EPA, who now pulls down a six-figure salary at Safety-Kleen. As the world's largest handler of automotive and industrial wastes, Chicago-based Safety-Kleen sends huge quantities of hazardous wastes to cement kiln incinerators.
And the industry remains well-positioned to bend a ear now that Clinton is in the White House. Hillary Clinton is a former member of Lafarge's board of directors --- a work-free job for which she received about $31,000 a year.
Concludes Dr. Kleppinger, whose consulting clients include commercial hazardous waste incinerators that are being driven out of business by cement kilns, "This is one of the biggest scams of all time."
By dinner time, a crowd of 60 locals had gathered along the road alongside
the Alpena plant. The crowd was by no means a representative sample of
Alpean residents. Most were members of HEAL.
But neither was the crowd a typical group of environmental activists. These were people who drive big American cars and buy their clothes at Kmart. Most were old enough to be the parents of the Greenpeace climbers. Yet this group stood around for hours, waiting to greet the climbers who were slowing working their way back down to earth.
And every face in the crowd had a story to tell.
"Some nights I lie awake and watch the plume drift across the sky," said a quiet, brown-haired woman.
"This plant is the number one killer we face in this town," said Russ Hoover, a retired mechanic who is running for City Council. Russ handed out buttons and brochures to anyone who would take one.
"I was poisoned here," said a former plant worker, as he yanked up his shirt to show the scars left behind by radiation treatments. He is convinced his cancer was caused by the kiln dust.
"Our doctors, they only treat the symptoms. They don't look for the cause," complained Flora Lahman, a graceful, white-haired woman who is also ill. "And that's what most of the people in this town are doing, too."
The Alpena police confirmed that it was the largest protest they'd seen in a year or so, though it was far from a problem. One young officer, given the thankless job of trying to keep traffic flowing on a stretch of two-lane road where everybody knows everybody else and nobody bothers pulling off the road before starting up a conversation, politely asked an elderly woman to step off the road. "For your own safety, ma'am," he pleaded.
"My safety?" she scowled, pointing up at the stack. "How can I be safe when I have to breathe the air?"
The descending climbers were escorted through the plant and released at a different gate than the one at which this crowd was waiting. Charlie picked them up in the little white van, and drove them around. The van rolled to a stop near the same spot they had leapt the fence that morning.
The sliding door flew open with a "whooosh."
And the granola commandos scrambled out to a chorus of cheers and congratulations --- while behind them, the beast rumbled on.
© 1993 Metro Times, Inc. All rights reserved.