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State legislators tour Chanute cement manufacturer - KOAM TV 7

State legislators tour Chanute cement manufacturer ordered to pay $2.5 million penalty

Updated July 9, 2013 by Jordan Aubey:  A controversial cement plant in Kansas gets a visit from state legislators.

Last month the EPA issued Ash Grove Cement in Chanute a $2.5 million fine.  The EPA says the plant in Chanute along with eight other Ash Grove plants across the country have been emitting harmful levels of toxins into the air.

Insurance agents, city officials, and state legislators were among those invited by Ash Grove for a tour of the Chanute plant on Tuesday.  There was room on the busses and we tried to take the tour as well, but the company's public relations spokesperson said no.

We watched as the busses left to watch an explosion at a nearby rock quarry.

When the state legislators returned we asked them about the fine.  They say they had no idea about the fine issued by the EPA and wanted to see how the cement plant operates.

"I just became aware of it this morning," says Kansas District 14 Representative Keith Esau.  "I haven't read any of it.  I just know that something came down and I will go and look into it."

"They've investigated this facility in the past," says Kansas District 14 Senator Forrest Knox.  "I know they've never found any problems - EPA - that is KDHE - I'm on the utility's committee, been on there for a number of years."

"We're out here just to see the operations, see how it's operating, see what they do on a day to day basis," says Kansas District 7 Representative Richard Proehl.

"Usually it's the EPA overstepping their authority in doing things," says Esau.  "We build a lot of roads.  We need concrete.  We appreciate the business that they provide for Kansas and we really haven't heard anything bad about them anywhere."

"If by chance they close this plant it would be a tremendous loss to Southeast Kansas," says Proehl.

Ash Grove has had permission since 1988 to burn hazardous waste as fuel to make cement.

After Tuesday's tour we spoke with a Chanute man who says his lungs are affected because of Ash Grove's operations.  He says he used to work near the cement plant but did not want to be interviewed on camera because he's involved in related legal action.

The EPA says possible effects from the type of toxins released by Ash Grove include lung diseases, such as asthma.

 

Updated June 21, 2013 at 4:40 PM CST by Jordan Aubey:  A Chanute, Kansas cement manufacturer has a big facility with a big problem.  That's according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jeff Galemore is one of several residents in Chanute who've been saying for years that something is wrong with the community's health.

"It's not a cement plant - it's a hazardous waste disposal facility," says Galemore.  "Thyroid problems, kidney transplants - something is causing it."

Galemore and others believed it was because of the nearby Ash Grove cement plant that since 1988 has been burning hazardous waste as fuel.

But in 2010, EPA officials along with workers with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said there were no dangerous levels of toxins in the air, water, or ground.  KDHE officials did say they found more children under the age of 15 in Chanute with asthma, but the EPA found no connection to Ash Grove.

But things have change.

"Now they figure out they are actually polluting us," says resident Nick Galemore.

A new EPA study shows the Ash Grove plant in Chanute, along with eight other Ash Grove plants across the country, have been emitting harmful levels of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

According to the EPA possible effects include bad water quality and lung diseases such as asthma.

In a statement from Ash Grove, based in Overland Park, Kansas, company officials said, "Ash Grove contends that its plant complied with the Clean Air Act and works to minimize its environmental impacts.  At the same time, this EPA initiative has been quite costly for Ash Grove, and has required a significant amount of time and effort.  Rather than continue the debate, we believe that our effort is better spent collaborating on ways to further reduce our environmental footprint."

Now, some residents are worried about who to trust.

"It really made me angry," says Nick Galemore.  "The people that are paid to protect people, at the state level and the federal level, are only out to protect the companies."


Posted June 21, 2013 at 2:18 PM CST - News release from the Department of Justice:


Ash Grove Cement Company has agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty and invest approximately $30 million in pollution control technology at its nine Portland cement manufacturing plants to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, announced the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
 
Today's agreement will reduce more than 17,000 tons of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution each year across plants located in Foreman, Ark.; Inkom, Idaho; Chanute, Kan.; Clancy, Mont.; Louisville, Neb.; Durkee, Ore.; Leamington, Utah; Seattle, Wash.; and Midlothian, Texas.
 
"This significant settlement will achieve substantial reductions in air pollution from Ash Grove's Portland cement manufacturing facilities and benefit the health of communities across the nation," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher.  "The agreement reflects the Justice Department's ongoing commitment to protecting public health and the environment   through enforcement of the nation's Clean Air Act."
 
"Today's settlement will reduce air pollution that can harm human health and contribute to acid rain, haze, and smog," said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The new stringent limits on emissions will lead to less pollution and better air quality for communities across the country."
 
In addition, Ash Grove has agreed to spend $750,000 to mitigate the effects of past excess emissions from several of its facilities.  
 
The settlement requires Ash Grove to meet stringent emission limits and install and continuously operate modern technology to reduce NOx, SO2, and particulate matter (PM). Ash Grove is required to reduce NOx emissions at nine kilns, some of which will have the lowest emission limits of any retrofit control system in the country.  In addition, modern pollution controls must be installed on every kiln to reduce PM emissions, and on several kilns to reduce SO2 emissions.
 
In addition, at its Texas facility, Ash Grove will shut down two older, inefficient kilns, while a third will be replaced with a cleaner, newly reconstructed kiln. 
 
Ash Grove will also spend $750,000 on a project to replace old diesel truck engines at its facilities in Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas, which are estimated to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides by approximately 27 tons per year.   
 
The settlement is part of EPA's national enforcement initiative to control harmful air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including portland cement manufacturing facilities. This is also the first settlement with a cement manufacturer that requires injunctive relief and emission limits for PM. SO2 and NOx, two key pollutants emitted from cement plants, can harm human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air into fine particles of particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death. 
 
Eight states and one local agency have joined the United States in the settlement, including: Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
 
The settlement was lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas and
is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
 
More information about this settlement:

More about EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/data/planning/initiatives/index.html

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