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Zinc oxide plant wants to measure its air pollution facility-wide, instead of stack-by-stack

An aerial view of Waelz Sustainable Products near Logansport.
Courtesy of Google Maps
In September, Waelz Sustainable Products, near Logansport in Cass County, emitted more toxic lead, manganese and chromium than its permit allows.

Residents in Cass County worry changes to a zinc oxide manufacturing plant’s air permit would put more toxic heavy metals into the air. Instead of setting emissions limits for each individual smokestack, Waelz Sustainable Products wants to have one set of standards for the whole plant.

In September, WSP emitted more toxic lead, manganese and chromium than its permit allows. But in a letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, company officials said if it had facility-wide limits only, WSP would have been in compliance.

Lora Redweik with the Cass County Citizens Coalition is concerned that WSP has already exceeded its stack limits.

“That's going to be a huge problem when it comes to when they are in full-blown mode and have two kilns. What's that going to do?” she said.

Though WSP’s permit allows for a second kiln, it hasn’t decided if it will add one.

According to the nonprofit watchdog group the Environmental Integrity Project, facility-wide limits often increase pollution and are difficult to enforce. But the plant's general manager, Mike Englert, said overall pollution would stay the same — even if emissions go up for individual stacks.

Englert said when WSP applied for its air permit, it set some of its stack estimates too low — but it has a better idea of emissions now that the plant is up and running.

“We are not in any way, shape or form saying that it's going to be higher. It's the same overall site just like it was in the permit," he said.

READ MORE: Zinc oxide manufacturing plant granted air permit to the dismay of concerned residents

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WSP primarily makes zinc oxide, but also hopes to sell its byproduct called Waelz Iron Product (WIP) to be reused in other products. Englert said it’s still working to find buyers.

“We've sent samples to several cement manufacturers. They are testing it. They obviously have to make sure it will work with their specific recipe. That material can also be used in asphalt production,” he said.

For now, the WIP is being disposed of in the nearby solid waste landfill. That also concerns the Cass County Citizens Coalition, which feels it should be classified as hazardous waste.

James Rybarczyk is a retired professor at Ball State University in analytical environmental chemistry. He said WIP is what’s leftover from making the main product.

“So if there are any toxic materials, such as chromium and cadmium — the other heavy metals that don't go anywhere else — they stay in that WIP. So it's marginal that it's not hazardous waste,” Rybarczyk said.

Englert said Waelz Sustainable Products tests the WIP before it goes to the landfill.

According to a FAQ provided by WSP, the plant also emits small amounts of dioxins. Dioxins can cause cancer, reproductive, developmental and hormonal issues, and damage your immune system.

Redweik said she finds it hypocritical that Gov. Eric Holcomb has opposed shipping dioxins from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment to Indiana.

“If he's so worried about their dioxins, why isn't he worried about his own hometown dioxins that everybody is breathing?” she said.

Redweik said little has been done to increase IDEM’s workforce to help oversee hazardous waste landfills and industrial plants like WSP.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.