Activists: It's not too late to stop the cement plant
Jenny Brown
April 1997

"It's not a done deal" was the message carried by activists working to stop the building of a tire-burning cement plant just west of Gainesville. Members of the Haile Community Association and Clean Air and Water for Alachua County set up tables at the Spring Arts Festival April 5-6 and talked to a steady stream of concerned petition signers.

"They say that not that many people are against it, but nearly everyone I ask signs the petition," commented one tabler after a busy day Saturday.

It was necessary to put forth the message that the cement plant is not a done deal because Florida Rock Industries held a "groundbreaking" ceremony following the Alachua County Commission's decision (over Penny Wheat's objections) to take no action rescinding the permit or restraining the proposed plant.

But the groundbreaking didn't really break ground. "It was a publicity stunt, held out by the highway" said Sue Harms, who lives a couple of miles from the site, which is west of Gainesville and north of Newberry on State Road 235. Opponents of the plant say the groundbreaking was designed to make concerned residents think that the fight was over and that Florida Rock Industries had won.

Harms, a critical care nurse who also raises Arabian horses, said "The County Commission didn't look at the evidence. It's government and big business trouncing the rights of the people." Two legal appeals are making their way through the courts and plant opponents urged citizens to call the Alachua County Commission (374-5210) on Earth Day, April 22, to register your objection to the cement plant.

Why all the fuss? The proposed plant will include "An industrial scale furnace that fuses crushed limerock with clay a 2,822 degrees Fahrenheit to produce portland cement," according to Tom Bussing, a doctor of material science and engineering who has been fighting the plant. County and state regulations would allow the plant to put eight tons of regulated pollutants in the air every day, including caustic cement dust, fine particulate matter small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and heavy metals such as mercury, lead and beryllium. Another 2-3 tons of unregulated pollutants would also be emitted.

The plant will be fired by burning tires for about a third of its fuel, which will save Florida Rock 3 million dollars a year but produce much more hazardous emissions. The plant is projected to burn 4,000 tires a day, possibly more. A similar cement kiln in Kern County, California was ordered by the courts to stop burning tires in November of 1995, according to Clean Air and Water.

The plant would produce dioxins at a greater rate than a hazardous waste incinerator. "Tires produce toxic fumes, including dioxins, if they are not burned cleanly. Dioxins are not captured by filtering. But a cement plant is not required to control emissions of dioxins, nor subject to any monitoring of their presence," said Bussing in an editorial in the Gainesville Sun. There are options, several cement plants burn natural gas, rather than Florida Rock's proposed combination of coal and tires.

Then there is the matter of particulate matter. Cement Kiln Dust (CKD) would be produced by the plant at a rate of 4,000 pounds a day, although Florida Rock says that the new plant will dispose of CKD by mixing it back into the product cement. No-one else does this, "In other words it's an experimental model," says Bussing. "CKD is ... usually disposed of as hazardous waste."

According to Clean Air and Water, "The cement plant would significantly increase the total air pollution discharged by all the boilers and incinerators of Alachua County. Particulate emissions would increase by 90%, volatile organics by 100% and carbon monoxide by 530%." The plant's nitrogen oxide emissions would be the equivalent of putting another 69,000 cars on the road in Alachua County.

As if that weren't enough, the plant site is only 25 feet above the water table, and is surrounded by open lime pits which are directly connected to the aquifer. Drinking water for the cities, residential well water and Alachua County's springs could all be affected by runoff created in the course of producing 750,000 tons of portland cement a year.

The County Commission cites 80 jobs which will be created at the plant. But for two million dollars a year, the County could hire 80 people to do countless tasks that are needed in Alachua County. The people of the County would get a lot more out of it, and we wouldn't have to ransom our natural heritage and future ability to breathe. We'll be paying much more than two million dollars a year in in medical bills for increased respiratory illnesses and cancers in Alachua County as a result of the cement plant, if the testimony of doctors in hundreds of letters and at the County Commission hearings is correct.

The County Commission, after approving a special permit to build the plant, has failed to take any actions to restrict or rescind the permit, despite widespread opposition around the county and in Gainesville. Commissioner Penny Wheat has stood as the sole voice in opposition to the plant, and she is often unable to get another commissioner to even second her motions so they can be discussed.

United to Stop the Cement Plant, a group made up of the Haile Community Association and Clean Air and Water for Alachua County, are calling on anyone who opposes the plant to take action on Earth Day, April 22 and call the Alachua County Commission at 374-5210 to register your opposition.

They also need funds to support their ongoing public information campaign and legal challenges. Send contributions to: United to Stop the Cement Plant, P.O. Box 5584, Gainesville, FL 32602. If you want to help, call 375-6451 (Clean Air and Water) or 472-4938 (Haile Community Association).

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