Incinerator or Recycler? Company Makes Product From Hazardous Waste
MORGAN CITY, La. (AP) _ Jack Kent is making money and enemies at both ends of the 275-foot-long contraption he runs near this town of oil men and shrimp boats.
His hazardous waste kiln at Marine Shale Processors - big as a football field with a smokestack 140 feet high - is a high-profile presence on the flat southern Louisiana horizon.
It’s also a target of two groups that want to shut it down: some local residents who suspect it’s dangerous and business competitors who accuse the company of skirting environmental regulations.
Marine Shale, which employs about 240 people, denies the claims and insists that it cooperates fully with regulators.
In Washington as well as Louisiana, the debate centers on whether Kent’s contraption is an incinerator, which must meet one set of regulations, or a recycling plant, required to meet others.
Kent charges $200 to $300 per 50-gallon drum to take in hazardous wastes from the companies that make them, ranging from glues to various petroleum by- products, but excluding PCBs, dioxins, asbestos, explosives, mercury compounds or disease-carrying materials. He receives 720 tons a day.
He heats the waste to about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 hours while running it through a whirling kiln that looks like an elongated cement mixer. He sells the resulting aggregate as material for road beds and parking lots. He has about 10 customers so far.
If Marine Shale’s claims about its process and product are found valid by state and federal officials examining the company’s operations, it could render competitors’ incinerators obsolete while revolutionizing the way a growing national hazardous waste disposal problem is handled.
It could also be very lucrative for Marine Shale. Company attorney and vice president George Eldredge says a patent is being sought for part of the process and licensing arrangements will follow.
Eldredge likes to say that incinerators create hazardous waste for storage in landfills, while Marine Shale eliminates it in the creation of a product.
At Marine Shale, next to Bayou Boeuf, conveyors lift piles of various materials - some sludgy, some solid and some that serve as their own fuel - into a huge rotating cylinder.
Cameras at both ends monitor the inside of the kiln, which looks like Hollywood’s vision of hell, red hot with glowing embers and tumbling debris. A computer keeps tabs on temperature, gases and pressure, shutting down the operation if anything goes awry, according to Eldredge.
Earlier this year Marine Shale gave members of Congress clear plastic letter openers containing a small amount of the aggregate in the handle. The public relations gimmick prompted Richard Fortuna, lobbyist for a trade group representing competitors, to write to the lawmakers and urge them to contact the Capitol’s safety engineer ″to arrange for the transportation of this material to a permitted facility for proper disposal.″
″Sure, we did it,″ acknowledged Fortuna, director of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council. He contends the Marine Shale product is dangerous.
Kent says envy motivates the Treatment Council. He’s charging less than half what his competitors do to take in hazardous waste, and then turns it into a product that sells for $1 a ton.
″It makes them sad,″ he says sardonically.
The Treatment Council has joined South Louisianians Against Pollution, or SLAP, to fight Marine Shale.
Sally Herman, head of SLAP, says she opposes Marine Shale because she believes, admittedly without evidence, that the company may be a factor in the area’s unsually high cancer rate. ″Personally, I think they’re contributing to it,″ she said.
SLAP and Fortuna’s group have threatened a federal suit to try to halt Marine Shale’s operations.
The battle has spread to Congress.
Sen. John Breaux, D-La., attacked the company in April in a subcommittee hearing, suggesting that laws might be needed to close loopholes that allow Marine Shale to operate without an incinerator permit.
Kent suggested that Breaux was acting on behalf of his friend Bill Broadhurst, whose law firm has represented Rollins Environmental Services Inc., a Treatment Council member. Broadhurst is the attorney and lobbyist who accompanied former presidential candidate Gary Hart on the ship ″Monkey Business″ with Donna Rice.
Breaux spokesman Bob Mann labeled Kent’s suggestion ridiculous.
The 140-foot emissions stack at Marine Shale puts out a steady plume of vapor, which the company says is clean. Water used to ″scrub″ the gases of particles that might pollute the air is re-used in the process, he said. Emissions pass through a ″bag house,″ where, according to Eldredge, they are filtered through more than a thousand bags, resembling vacuum cleaner bags, before release into the air.
Eldredge stressed that none of the water from the Marine Shale process is discharged into the bayou. He cited state Department of Environmental Quality records showing that traditional incinerators, such as the one run by Rollins in Baton Rouge, contaminate ″scrub″ water that must be treated before it is discharged into the Mississippi River, a source of drinking water for New Orleans and other communities.
About 1,750 companies that generate hazardous materials in 42 states ship them to Marine Shale, according to spokesman Larry August. The materials are tested to ensure that they can be safely put in Marine Shale’s kiln, he said.
″They shift wastes, they don’t treat them,″ Fortuna asserted.
When Fortuna complains that the Marine Shale aggregate doesn’t meet specifications to be declared non-hazardous, Eldredge counters that those specifications are meant to apply to hazardous wastes - not to a product that meets industry standards for use as road material.
The EPA has taken samples of the product regularly and so far has found no reason to stop its distribution, said a lawyer for the agency, James Neet.
″We’re not saying the aggregate is pure,″ he said. ″What we’re saying is that the aggregate does not pose an imminent or substantial endangerment to the public health or environment.″
Fortuna’s group complains that Marine Shale, by calling itself a recycler instead of an incinerator, is avoiding the stringent regulations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
If Marine Shale did go through the permit process under that act, Eldredge said, it could take three years, during which the company would have to shut down, eliminating a payroll approaching $10 million. That would probably shut the company down for good, he said.
″What you’ve got here is really an economic battle,″ observed Neet, who said the EPA has been investigating Marine Shale for two years, partly to determine whether it should indeed be regulated as an incinerator.
Neet said two federal grand juries are also looking into Marine Shale’s operations, but he declined to give details.
″One thing to remember is that their entire facility is governed by the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act,″ he said, adding that the Treatment Council has been falsely implying that Marine Shale isn’t regulated.
Indeed, Chris Roberie of the Department of Environmental Quality said Marine Shale’s air quality permit is stricter than the one issued for Rollins’ Baton Rouge plant because it was issued four years ago when the facility had to meet tougher rules than when Rollins’ permit was issued about 18 years ago.
State and federal regulators have cited Marine Shale for several alleged ″opacity violations,″ meaning smoke or vapor emanating from the plant was darker than it should have been.
The state last month ordered Marine Shale to install equipment for constant monitoring of its stack, and the company has announced it signed a $750,000 contract for such a system.
Water quality on Bayou Boeuf is another concern.
Mike Schurtz of the state environmental agency said it’s true that Marine Shale re-uses, rather than discharges, waste water. But, he said, the agency has ordered the company to clean up oily material it believes was leaked into the bayou from a storage barge and an ″oyster bucket″ used to transfer material.
The agency’s order also calls for Marine Shale to apply for a stricter water quality permit. Schurtz said Marine Shale must make sure rainwater that runs off the site doesn’t carry dangerous materials. Eldredge said the company will meet all requirements.
Ms. Herman is unconvinced. She dismisses criticism that her group is being manipulated by Treatment Council companies that have been accused of polluting the environment.
″I’m not taking up for Rollins,″ she said. ″But what does it matter what somebody else is doing? If you’re wrong, it doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing.
″My main concern is my family and the people in this community.″
End Adv Monday AMs May 23