Toxic in a California Landfill = Safe in Your Texas Lungs

Via the NYT, we again revisit California’scrackdown on auto shredders and the toxic waste they generate that’s creating headaches for regulators. Auto shredders strip a vehicles of all of its non-steel, non-frame parts, send the frame off for scrap metal, and grind everything else into bits and pieces containing chemicals from Vinyl Chloride to Mercury to Lead to Asbestos to PCBs, depending on the age and model. It’s full of sharp metal, wires, and hard plastic, but for some reason, the industry nickname for this waste is a very cuddly “fluff.” When they cover this fluff with a “special coating” of cement-like material and bury it in landfills, it tends to leech out all of those toxic ingredients and cause problems. So why do you care? Because dear reader, what California thinks is too toxic to be landfilled, Texas is allowing into your lungs via TXI’s  Midlothian cement plant, where the TCEQ just gave a permit to burn this very same kind of auto “fluff.” It was part of TXI’s “Landfill in the Sky” permit that Downwinders tried to modify or deny, except that the state agreed with the company that there should be no public notice, comment, or hearing on the matter. TXI received the permit last summer, but has yet to build the infrastructure on-site to be able to process all the new wastes it wants to burn, including car fluff. We won’t know when they’re going to begin throwing this stuff into the kiln until after the fact. In Rick Perry’s Texas, that’s just the way it is.

New EPA Rules for Solid Waste Incineration at Kilns Still Suck

Among the many faux EPA outrages Big Business and House Republicans have fostered upon us, you may remember the meme that the feds were going to put thousands of hospitals and school boilers out of business with super strict new emission rules. In fact, the facilities most affected by the rules weren’t schools or hospitals. They were on-site chemical incinerators and boilers and of course, cement kilns. However, the pile of manure that was churned out enveloped the Agency and, as with the new ozone standards, made it retreat and reconsider the originally-proposed rules. Newly reconstituted, the Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration rules (CISWI) were dumped by the Administration last Friday at closing time like a late-night gangland victim at a hospital emergency room. After review, it’s easy to understand why. The rules did not go far enough for industry, which would find any regulations onerous. And in an attempt to win the business community favor, the administration gave away strict standards for particulate matter, dioxin, and toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Nothing was done to narrow the broad definitions of “nonhazardous solid waste” that allows for the burning of just about everything is it gets the right exemptions, including tires, plastics garbage, car interiors, and creosote-treated wood. This is where the entire industry is headed – the grey area of these nonhazardous solid wastes – as exemplified by TXI’s “landfill in the sky” permit recently awarded by TCEQ to the company without any public notice or opportunity for comment.  And for the time being, this administrations seems happy to allow it.

New TXI Waste-Burning Permit Awarded With No Public Comment

(Dallas)—- Only three years after it finally stopped the controversial practice of burning hazardous waste at its Midlothian cement plant, TXI was awarded a permit in June by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality allowing the company to burn at least 12 new kinds of industrial wastes in its kiln without any public notice, comment, or hearing, and based only on other cement plants’ data. 

Coming to A Kiln Near You: The Brave New World of “Alternative Fuels”

A profile of a Florida Cemex plant reveals the fluidity of current fuel mixes finding their way to your local neighborhood kiln. The entire industry is in flux as a result of new EPA emission rules, concern about greenhouse gases, and the costs of coal in a poor economy. That’s opened up possibilities that just weren’t there even five years ago. In this case, the good news is that agricultural waste such as peanut shells and wood chips are being taken seriously. The bad news is that the plant is still burning tires and tire “fluff” – the polyester part of what you roll on –  and trying to equate those hazardous “non-hazardous”  wastes with with the biofuels that could really improve air quality. We’re seeing the same thing here in North Texas with TXI’s new proposed “Landfill in the Sky” permit that could have the Midlothian plant burning everything from Switchgrass and Wheat Straw (Good) to plastic trash and car “fluff” – all the non-steel parts of a car ground up into piles that are thrown into the kiln (Bad). Because of the uncertainty surrounding where all this is going in light of new EPA definitions of “solid wastes” and “recycling,” now is a good time for citizens to intervene in local permit fights and state and federal policy decisions in order to direct that chaos in a direction that benefits public health. In this case “crisis” really does translate into “danger” and “opportunity.”

Why Non-Hazardous Auto Shredder Waste is Really Hazardous

TXI’s giant cement plant in Midlothian is seeking permission to burn a long list of so-called “non-hazardous” wastes, including a substance called ASR – Auto Shredder Residue. This waste, also called auto fluff, is composed of all the non-steel parts of a car or truck. The plastic and foam dashboard that turns into dioxin when it’s burned. The switches and dials, some of which still have mercury and PCBs in them. The asbestos-coated brakes. All of it gets thrown into a giant grinder that turns an Accord into a pile of little quarter size chunks in minutes. One of the objections to burning this kind of waste is that it’s really a hazardous waste. A recent enforcement action in California against an Auto Shredder confirms these fears. It was caught sending wastes full of dangerous levels of lead and cadmium to a non-hazardous waste landfill. At least there it can be dug up and reburied at a haz-waste landfill. You can’t un-burn that kind of mistake at a cement plant.