Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rockwool, Inc and Jefferson County, WV

The rockwool controversy pits WV "beautiful county" against manufacturing.

Expert weighs in on potential effects of Rockwool facility


Below is the only 'expert' opinion on Rockwool I have read. Regardless that's it printed in the Journal, which typically pursues a very low level of journalism, this guy's background conveys credibility. Are there other 'expert' opinions?  I would like to read them. By 'expert' I mean people with the scientific expertise AND experience in public health. I put it in quotes because I am hearing a lot of alarms from reasonable people who, however, are NOT expert in this sense. I have many friends among "Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool" who cite the list of chemicals used and released in production as an "obvious" proof of harm. However, as the article below notes, factory conditions and controls, the local env, and doses are critical in determining whether there is danger, or what level of danger. (For example, the runoff form Jefferson County agriculture is, and will continue to, generate much more water pollution  than Rockwool construction.

I have looked all over the Internet, and I am a relatively experienced searcher, for a lawsuit or judgement filed against Rockwool for illness or health related injury. I cannot find one.  Apparently, neither can the media. ( And they operate in many countries, and do their R&D in Denmark, an environmentally conscious nation , where they have a good reputation --  for a corporation, at least.

So, I am coming to the conclusion that the health risks of Rockwool are being exploited somewhat opportunistically as a cover for opposition to manufacturing in general. This trend, and (if I may use a 'bad' word) CLASS perspective,  is fully out in the open in this Forbes article ( A picture of a beautiful, mfg-free, gas and coal free, tourist and federal employment based near paradise, for ever, is painted. No mention is made of its poverty, its grossly underfunded education system,  its landlocked distance from major air hubs, and the biggest opioid epidemic rate (together with Berkeley County) in the nation. I think the painting is a fantasy


Jefferson County is the states richest county by income. But that's not saying much in the poorest state in the nation. The poor education, commuting and high-tech infrastructure virtually guarantees that no high tech firm will locate here. Most tourism wages are at the minimum wage level, or in some cases (restaurants, immigrants, etc) below minimum  
I too would prefer NOT to have giant smoke stacks near my home, or my grandchildren's schools. I love country roads. But I am retired on a comfortable income. The beginning, advertised, wage at Rockwool is OVER 15/hr, that is, OVER the median income level in  Jefferson County, (27K $$), acc. to state stats (posed on the Socialist Economics\ FB group). Thus, for over half the workers in Jefferson county, turning down an offer from Rockwool would be turning down a raise.  

"Its only 150 jobs", some say. Really? What other opportunities for raising wages and salaries are there?  Federal Employment?  Shepherd University?, APUS? 

-- Senator Manchin is not Senator Byrd. Since the latter's death the power to direct fed investment here is greatly diminished. The State can barely keep the Marc commuter train service running, the lifeline to the only existing high-paying incomes in the county. 

--If we had the cleaner governance of Vermont or Massachusetts, it would be very doable to diversify an economic development scheme that would support much more small business development and high-human-capital enterprises economies. But we have a governance formed and cursed and corrupted by a 100 years of natural resource dominion. 

However, given our poverty, the relatively tiny number of in state millionaires available to tax, and the depression in  'human capital', manufacturing is very likely the ONLY path to higher incomes for working families. And manufacturing of ANY kind has to be powered by reliable, sustainable power, which in this area can only be powered by coal or natural gas.

I raised my family in and around paper mills, machine tool shops and semiconductor plants. I love factories as much as country roads -- the miracles that human hands can create. It may reduce an element of country, but its not doom, and there is a noticeable improvement in working class culture, opportunities and skills, and aspirations, which is a wondrous thing to live and breath.

A better solution would be to change educational,  health and infrastructure conditions so the choice for a more advanced mode of development is possible. However that means literally overthrowing the state resource captured regime and replacing it with one that will renegotiate the terms of resource extraction, place the gains in a sovereign wealth fund dedicated non-resource development of Wv and its people. The choice is hard, but not that complicated -- Do  you want to be Libya, or Norway?  There is not much middle ground. Coal must be overthrown. Otherwise poverty will smother all other strategies. I doubt we will do better than mfg in WV, including jefferson county, until that happens. 

The one middle ground that MIGHT be available is China. If an "externality", like the Federal Government, or China, wants to put 100 billion dollars into the state, then negotiating THOSE terms might open the doors to "Norway", a relative heaven, and close the doors to "Libya", another level of hell.

For those that want a better solution, you have to find the money for it. It's not in West Virginia under this government.

Therefore I oppose 'opposing' the Rockwool plant, and favor working with the company toward the best mutual outcome. All this pending the 180 days of its operating permit (acc to Journal story) where measures of the actual pollution and runoff effects can be documented.




RANSON — Since July, concerned citizens from Jefferson County and beyond have spoken out at local government meetings against the impending Rockwool facility and its potential impacts on residents' health and the environment, but one state expert has weighed in on the issue.

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Air Quality Report, the chemicals to potentially be emitted from the two 21-story tall smoke stacks include formaldehyde, sulfur-dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide, soot, large and small particulate matter and sulfuric acid.

While there has been public outcry, the actual effects of these emissions are up in the air, according to West Virginia University Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Michael McCawley.

"In toxicology we are fully aware that it is the dose that truly makes the poison. In this case we do not know the dose yet," McCawley said. "Therefore, we cannot say with any certainty what the level of alarm should be."

The exact health effects of these emissions cannot be determined without knowledge about the interaction between the emissions, weather and terrain, which according to McCawley, highlights an issue with the Air Quality Permit process.

"The air permit does a poor job of answering the issue," he said. "So there is no wonder that citizens are in an uproar."

Those protesting the Rockwool facility that will produce stone wool used in building insulation for housing and other industrial projects have voiced concerns about the risk of cancer from the emissions and the impact on children's health because of its proximity to North Jefferson Elementary School.

"This is an issue of not only public safety, but environmental safety," said Regina Hendrix of the Eastern Panhandle Chapter of The Sierra Club at a Jefferson County Commission meeting this month. "You're either going to have hundreds of families staying, or hundreds of families leaving. I am not the first one to say it tonight, but I certainly won't be the last."

Expert opinion

Knowing what chemicals are among pollutants and how they are regulated can help the public understand the emissions coming from Rockwool and how people, animals and the environment will be affected, according to McCawley.

McCawley spent more than 27 years as a Public Health Service Officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, studying miners' health, occupational respiratory disease, aerosol measurement and ultrafine particles, according to WVU's website. He has experience working with wood dust, volcanic ash, diesel, coal mine dust, silica and beryllium.

"With the majority of these chemicals, these companies must tread carefully with how much of these pollutants they emit," he said. "Some, like formaldehyde, are not regulated by the WVDEP, but are regulated by the federal government."

The chemicals Rockwool will emit are slated to comply with federal regulations, according to a statement the company release earlier this month.

"Once up and running, we will continuously monitor and report on our operations to ensure ongoing compliance with all regulatory requirements," the statement said.

The upcoming Rockwool facility will have to demonstrate compliance to the federal limits for phenol, formaldehyde and menthol within 180 days of being operational, according to a press release from the company.

Rockwool Group North America President Trent Ogilvie said his team has been working with local authorities on establishing the Ranson facility between a series of closed meetings with city, county and state officials Aug. 8.

"We have followed all regulations to ensure that we are well below the regulation standard," he said. "We see the regulation standards and we try to go below those to make sure we have a bugger in case something should happen. With (Volatile Organic Compounds) like formaldehyde, we will only allow 0.23 micrograms per meter cubed. This is 10 times lower than Virginia's standard."

According to information supplied from Rockwool, the company uses "Best Achievable Control Technologies," which are used to keep emissions below federal and state limits.

Other information from the company said although the state of West Virginia does not require "air modeling" – a mathematical simulation of how pollutants are dispersed in the atmosphere – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the MACT, or Maximum Achievable Control Technology, standards in 2015. These standards placed federal limits on all mineral wool insulation manufacturers, including Rockwool, a company factsheet said.

The response the human body has to these regulated chemicals can come in the form of inflammation and the severity varies based on exposure levels, McCawley said.

"The body produces chemicals in response to irritations, like a bug bite, and in doing so can cause inflammation to occur," he said. "The problem with inflammation is that it is the basis of almost all chronic diseases like heart and lung disease, but it can also greatly affect those that suffer from asthma and other problems."

In addition to the issue of inflammation, McCawley said VOCs provide support for the public's concerns about cancer risks.

"The VOCs are one of the primary sources of cancer risk, especially benzene," he said. "The VOCs, however, are not usually counted among the National Ambient Air Quality Standard criteria air pollutants. Among the NAAQS pollutants, the particulate matter would pose the highest cancer risk, all things being equal, though possibly not have as high a potential as VOCs for potency as a carcinogen."

A carcinogen is defined by the CDC as a cancer-causing agent often either in the environment or in the workplace.

Public concern of cancer risk is coupled with those who have issue with the facility being so close to North Jefferson Elementary School, Wildwood Middle School and T.A. Lowery causing many to protest at Jefferson County Schools Board of Education meetings.

"How (the emissions) affect kids will depend on weather and terrain," McCawley said. "It is fairly complicated to predict. Children's risk of exposure is similar to the risk of cancer … it all depends on the amount of exposure. Too much means they'll get sick fast. A little exposure means they just got exposed to some chemicals … it is still bad regardless."

Protests continue

While the risks of these exact levels of emissions remain questionable, the public outcry to Rockwool in recent weeks has been continuous. Crowds between 30 and 300 showed up at several Jefferson County Commission, Charles Town City Council and JCBOE meetings to voice their concerns. The Sierra Club, Citizens Concerned With Rockwool, Eastern Panhandle Protectors Group and other organizations have come out against the project.

"I speak for many when we say that there will be a lot of families moving out if Rockwool moves in," resident and online group member Leigh Smith said at an Aug. 8 Charles Town City Council meeting. "I am not going to have my kids growing up and going a school 2 miles away from that facility."

Rockwool's plans to open its Ranson location was announced in July 2017, according to Journal reports. This will be Rockwool's second facility in the U.S. The first is located in Byhalia, Mississippi.

Government officials and bodies have also joined the conversation. The JCBOE has asked the facility to conduct a Human Health Risk assessment to learn more facts in order to support or reject the project.

Jefferson County Commissioner Jane Tabb has also come out in opposition to the project.

"After listening to concerned citizens, doing my own research and much soul searching, I can no longer support the Rockwool project due to air quality issues," she said in a statement. "The Rockwool plant location has the potential to impact a large number of school age children and others with health issues. I do not feel that the Clean Air standards are adequate to avoid negative impacts to our citizens and visitors. I acknowledge that Rockwool has met all the legal requirements to proceed with the project. However, the air quality issues are a game changer for me and I will work to turn this around."

While the exact effects of pollution from Rockwool remain unknown, McCawley said this highlights an issue in the permit process and he feels the public is justified in its reaction.

"Until there is political pressure to change how permitting is done, nothing is going to change," he said. "People should; therefore, protest loud and long, throw up roadblocks every change they get and exact a political price from the regulators who allow any new sources of pollution."

Another step forward to McCawley would be to practice transparency and have more sampling sites for projects like this set up, including some run by the WVDEP, Rockwool and oversight groups.

"If the plant is interested in being a good neighbor it should be interested in doing so transparently and openly with the community," he said. "There is no perform solution but there may be, for the time being, ones that are better than what we've got

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV
Sign UP HERE to get the Weekly Program Notes.

No comments: