Cementing a Deal

A giant quarry and the world's largest cement kiln are being welcomed by Ste. Genevieve County. But the operation may leave St. Louis gasping for air.

The proposed Holnam facility in Ste. Genevieve County lies just outside the designated attainment zone, which incorporates seven counties in the bistate area and the city of St. Louis. If it were inside the zone, Holnam would automatically be compelled to adhere to stricter standards. But as it now stands, the DNR still considers the proposed plant a potential polluter of the first order. By the company's own admission, the plant would emit more than 20 hazardous airborne pollutants. But NOx levels are the major concern. DNR rates any facility that emits more than 250 tons of NOx annually a serious risk. Holnam's plant would pump out more than 7,000 tons.

"The Air Pollution Control Program (APCP) is concerned about the impact the proposed plant would have on the St. Louis non-attainment area," wrote Roger D. Randolph, director of the DNR program. "The Gateway Clean Air Program, the introduction of reformulated gasoline and the statewide NOx regulation are programs that have consumed a lot of time, energy and financial resources aimed at lowering the ozone level in the St. Louis area. Therefore, the APCP is concerned about the potential detrimental effect on this area, particularly NOx sources such as the proposed cement kiln."

When the DNR factored in Holnam's emission estimates, it showed that the proposed facility would throw the region into serious nonattainment of federally mandated air-quality standards. Randoph's letter notes that Holnam's application omits any reference to the installation of available pollution-control devices that would limit the plant's NOx emissions -- the kind of devices used at some facilities in Europe. Randolph concludes: "Your application is seriously deficient by failing to (have) included add-on controls in your analysis. Please be advised that ... until these specific issues are dealt with in a satisfactory manner, the application is unacceptable and technically incomplete."

The Holnam project would affect 4,000 acres of undeveloped land in northern Ste. Genevieve County.
Mark Gilliland
The Holnam project would affect 4,000 acres of undeveloped land in northern Ste. Genevieve County.
Holnam project manager Barry Lower: "I know that it's good (wildlife) habitat, but it's not the pristine area that somebody has told you it is down there."
Mark Gilliland
Holnam project manager Barry Lower: "I know that it's good (wildlife) habitat, but it's not the pristine area that somebody has told you it is down there."

Despite being informed in writing that the company's air-quality permit was in jeopardy, Holnam went ahead and announced that it would pursue the project without further delay. In its Dec. 21 press release, the company mentioned nothing about the problems it had encountered with the state.

"It's kind of splitting hairs as to whether they're in the nonattainment zone or not," says Randolph. "The real issue is that they have a significant impact on ozone in the St. Louis area. We've told them that they've got problems, and we continue to work with them. The ball is in their court. So that's where it stands -- it's a negotiating process. We're trying to get them to offer up a better plan."

Lower, the company's project manager, argues that Holnam is caught between conflicting regulations: Pollution devices used in Europe aren't necessarily appropriate in the United States, he says, because they don't comply with opacity rules, which regulate the visible smoke being emitted from a stack. Lower refers to the European method as "selective catalytic reduction," or SNCR. "Our supplier has proposed a different technology for this project, which is also a very good remover of NOx," says Lower. "It's called "multistage combustion.' It controls the combustion process differently than in Europe. They believe and are prepared to guarantee that multistage combustion will be as effective as SNCR."

But a state official warns that Lower's explanation is misleading. "It's not a matter of either/or -- we're talking about additional control," says Refaat Mefrakis, a DNR environmental engineer. "In a cement kiln, multistage combustion is really a process modification, which basically minimizes the emission of NOx at the combustion zone. (But) it does not completely eliminate NOx. Holnam would still produce large amounts of NOx, whereas selective noncatalytic oxidation is an add-on control. From the literature that we're gathering, it seems to be effective in reducing NOx in the stacks -- after the multistage combustion."

Holnam operates 14 cement plants in the United States. All of them emit vast quantities of airborne pollutants from their smokestacks. In addition to manufacturing cement, some plants serve as hazardous-waste incinerators. Holnam's plant north of St. Louis in Clarksville, for instance, has burned tens of thousands of tons of hazardous waste as fuel since 1986. If the Ste. Genevieve plant becomes a reality, nothing would prohibit the company from burning hazardous waste there. That would cause the plant to emit more dioxins, furans and other toxic substances, adding to the pollution that the plant would inevitably cause. Missouri already holds the dubious distinction of having more hazardous-waste-fueled cement kilns than any other state. In addition to Holnam's plant in Clarksville, the waste burners include Continental Cement in Hannibal, Lone Star Industries in Cape Girardeau and River Cement in Festus.

Cement kilns started using hazardous waste as fuel in 1984, after Congress last amended the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act. The loophole grants cement producers the privilege of accepting hazardous waste without having to go through the same regulatory process as a hazardous-waste incinerator. This is doubly profitable for cement manufacturers, because they receive payment from hazardous-waste producers for accepting the waste and then turn around and use it as an alternative fuel.

Holnam's environmental record leaves a trail of toxic smoke from one end of North America to the other. In September, Colorado officials discovered that a smokestack at Holnam's LaPorte plant was emitting two times the permissible amount of pollution, according to press reports. In this case, state regulators limited the testing to just one of the plant's 100 smokestacks. At Holnam's headquarters in Dundee, Mich., and other plants, the company burns tires as fuel. Studies by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have shown that levels of heavy metals such as mercury increase when tires are used to stoke a cement kiln. In 1993, the Texas Air Control Board fined Holnam's facility in Midlothian $135,000 for excessive sulfur dioxide emissions. A year earlier, Canada's Ministry of the Environment ordered Holnam's parent company, Holderbank, to stop burning chlorinated waste at its plant in Mississauga, Ontario, after residents complained about high emissions of heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs and hydrochloric acid.

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