In June 2019, LaFargeHolcim (Holcim) submitted a permit amendment request to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to allow the plant to:
Increase the maximum allowed output of carbon monoxide from about 4,300 tons per year to 7,100 tons per year
Increase their use of controversial petroleum (pet) coke rather than use more expensive, cleaner sources of fuel
Preliminary predictions by Holcim show that this fuel shift could:
Triple output of particulate matter (PM 2.5)
Increase "other" pollutants (including lead and sulfur compounds) by more than 44,000 tons per year
(See the data.)
From what we can gather so far:
Technology exists to decrease emissions, but it's expensive. TCEQ asserts that the cost associated with Holcim actually using best available control technology is too prohibitive despite the plant's proximity to a growing number of families. Money over people.
Petroleum companies have an overabundance of the toxic waste product, pet coke, and many are paying cement companies to take it off their hands. We don't know what the arrangement is with Holcim, but pet coke is cheaper than cleaner fuels.
The limestone that Holcim utilizes is naturally higher in organic compounds than the limestone of the other cement plants in Midlothian, which has led to consistently less efficient combustion with higher release of CO, sulfur compounds and VOCs as compared to the other plants. This makes it harder for Holcim to decrease emissions, even when using similar technology to the other plants. See Comparison of plants.
Midlothian Breathe volunteers spent more than a year voicing concerns about the validity of Holcim's permit claims, backed by an independent review that pointed out some serious flaws. From the start, we knew it was an uphill battle, but one we had to take on to do what was right by our families and future families moving into our area.
The outcome: TCEQ reviewed and approved the permit, and also denied the Contested Case Hearings filed by local residents.
We have been told that TCEQ will require that Holcim perform "test burns" to see the true effects of burning additional pet coke. Midlothian Breathe wanted the test burns conducted before the permit was approved, but we will be keeping track of the test burns when they happen. That's part of our urgency in building up the network of PurpleAir sensors. Learn more about these sensors and what you can do.