The battle between operators of hazardous waste incinerators and cement kilns that burn hazardous waste as fuel has been heating up over the past year - and it is not expected to cool off any time soon.
The focal point of the public de-bate has been made loud and clear: to protect the health of Americans. Left unmentioned, however, is the diminishing market for off-site hazardous waste management services and the goal of self-preservation. With both sides urging tighter standards for waste combustion facilities and a "level playing field," EPA has the rare opportunity to write rules for an industry begging to be regulated.
In late 1993, six incineration companies banded together to form the Association for Responsible Thermal Treatment (ARTT). While the intent of the association is to promote the "highest technical and environmental standards" for the thermal destruction of hazardous waste, the members soon realized that public education would bring home the need for more stringent regulation. It also would level the playing field at the highest possible technological level, according to Art Blank, ARTT communications director.
ARTT contends that boilers and industrial furnaces (BIFs) - primarily cement kilns - do not have to follow the same regulations as incinerators, have not installed the same expensive air pollution control technology and may be sending metals up their stacks or retaining the contaminants in cement. The latter is used in making products such as water pipes, from which hazardous metals could later leach, according to the Association for Responsible Thermal Treatment.
Recently, the group appointed former New Jersey Gov. James Florio, former Wisconsin Sen. Robert Kasten and former Ohio Rep. Dennis Eckart as co-chairmen. The co-chairmen, according to Blank, will guide and advance the group's environmental reform agenda which includes a clean fuels specification defining which hazardous wastes can be safely burned in cement kilns and a more stringent set of operating parameters that address air emissions from commercial combustion units.
The Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition (CKRC) recently sent two petitions to EPA seeking more severe standards for all types of waste combustors. EPA should issue new metal standards that are tougher than current limits for the BIFs by factors of five to 10, and dioxins and furans should be regulated on the basis of toxicity, the group said. These new standards should be imposed on all waste combustors, even incinerators operating under final permits, CKRC added. "EPA should take steps to level the playing field for cement kilns and incinerators by simultaneously amending existing rules to provide more stringent standards for both types of facilities," argues Michael Benoit, CKRC chairman and a vice president of Cadence Environmental Energy Inc.
To ensure that cement kilns are engaged in an energy recovery process, as operators contend - and not in waste disposal - the coalition has asked EPA to specify that waste sent to kilns have a minimum heat value of 3,000 Btu per pound.
This figure is up to three times higher than the energy value necessary to contribute heat to the high-temperature cement manufacturing process, CKRC notes. In addition, the group wants EPA to limit toxic metal concentrations in wastes destined for all types of thermal treatment to an aggregate maximum of 2 percent and to require generators to certify that the wastes they send to kilns and incinerators meet this standard. Benoit points out that "while cement kilns do not burn wastes with high metals content, alleged excess metal content has become an issue. We want the agency to respond accordingly and, in the process, we believe the public will become convinced that these trace metals are being handled safely."
Simple economics can explain why the industry would seek tighter standards. Of the 1.6 million tons of hazardous waste that was burned off-site in 1993, 70 percent was handled by fuel blenders in combination with cement kilns, reported Joan Berkowitz of Farkas Berkowitz, a Washington, D.C., management consultant firm. Meanwhile, incinerators with a capacity approaching 800,000 tons burned about 480,000 tons of material and prices fell by an average of 30 percent, according to Berkowitz's estimate.
"Cement kilns threaten to take an increased share of the market as fuel blenders learn to incorporate higher percentages of solids and difficult-to-burn wastes into mixtures that cement kilns can handle," she added. Kilns took in only 35 percent of the $930 million paid for off-site combustion in 1993, according to Berkowitz. The cement companies, meanwhile, have come to rely on burning hazardous wastes to offset the cost of producing cement.
While the two factions lobby, EPA expects to complete a final combustion strategy by the end of the year. The agency has agreed with a petition from the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council that several cement kilns cannot burn hazardous wastes because they did not qualify for interim status and must first obtain a final permit. Only one of those facilities is actually burning wastes.