What local news reports called a "massive fire" swept through the piles of industrial wastes waiting to be burned at the Argos Cement Plant in Harleyville South Carolina yesterday. Ten workers escaped injury, but the fire was so intense that it required the assistance of outside fire departments totaling 75 firefighters, three trucks and two aircraft, and lasted all day as crews snuffed out hot spots.
Starting at about 5 in the morning, the fire quickly engulfed the 60 by 100 foot warehouse stuffed with carpet pieces, paper, and rubber ready to be put into the cement kiln as "fuel." Imagine a landfill or tire fire and that's the kind of heat, smoke and toxicity you've got to deal with when your "recycled fuel" goes up in flames.
Of course, health officials denied there was any risk of exposure to toxic fumes even as they were still trying to determine exactly what was in the warehouse. That's the deductive reasoning process in action when it comes to local officials in company towns. Harleyville is home to the second-largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the country, behind only Midlothian. It hosts two large plants – Argos and Giant. It's also been a center of kiln waste-burning since the 1980's
The kinds of wastes that caught fire in South Carolina are among those that TXI now has a permit to burn in its Midlothian cement plant, along with car interiors and plastic garbage. A permit that did not offer any public comment or hearing opportunity. The Ash Grove and Holcim Midlothian cement plants also burn industrial wastes including tires and used oil. In the mid-1990's a tire "recycling" firm in Midlothian connected to the cement plants caught fire and burned for days with the black smoke wafting through downtown Dallas skyscrapers.