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Lafarge’s renewed tire-burning plan meets residential opposition

Some residents who live near the Lafarge cement plant in the Brookfield area say the company had better work on building better community trust when it comes to a plan to burn discarded tires in its kiln. The company says it is doing just that.
Lafarge Canada has been producing cement at its Brookfield plant for more than half a century. The company has applied to the Environment Department to burn discarded tires to fuel the cement kiln at the plant. (INGRID BULMER / Local Xpress)

Building better cities.

That’s a slogan Lafarge uses to promote its cement product, but some residents who live near the company’s plant in the Brookfield area say the company had better work on building better community trust when it comes to a plan to burn discarded tires in its kiln.

“Here we go again,” said Ellen Durkee, who lives in Middle Stewiacke, about 15 kilometres from the plant.

“This is to cut costs; this isn’t to help us get rid of the tires,” said Durkee, who has children and grandchildren living in the area. “If they can prove to me scientifically that they will get all the heavy metals and that kind of stuff out of it, then … ”

There was no confidence that would be the case more than 10 years ago when Lafarge Canada proposed a similar tire-burning process to support its cement production at the plant in Pleasant Valley, Colchester County, about four kilometres from the village of Brookfield.

A plan at that time to burn scrap tires in the kiln was scuttled by then-environment minister Mark Parent on the strength of a report from an appointed advisory committee that concluded the kiln was not the best way to dispose of tires.

Mark Gibson, an associate professor in Dalhousie University’s civil and resource engineering department, was part of that advisory committee, and he has been studying the effects of burning scrap tires for the past decade.

“Our conclusion in that report was that burning tires is a good thing,” Gibson said.

But a better thing was to chop up the tires to use as an aggregate in asphalt for road construction, the report concluded.

“If the market was there, that would be the way to go,” Gibson said.

But the market did not exist, he said.

“Option 2 is to burn them. This is burned in many, many kilns all over the world. The reason is that it is the perfect fuel packet. We know what’s in them (tires) in terms of energy, the chemical composition. They have a regular shape. There are plenty of them, 850,000 (per year), one for every person in Nova Scotia, and they are easy to put in the kiln. We know how to transport them and store them and what comes off them.”

The company has again applied to the Environment Department for approval of a test project to burn tires in the kiln. The tires would be delivered to the plant site by tractor-trailer. A conveyor belt will carry the tires from ground level to above the kiln, where they will be dropped on a weight feeder into the kiln. The company hopes to burn 4,000 tonnes per year, which translates into about 400,000 regular-sized tires, said Robert Cumming, the environment director for Lafarge Canada.

“The basic concept here is to get the approval to do emission testing, to share the results,” Cumming said. “Only when we have satisfactory results do we continue on to use them (tires) for permanent use.”

Karine Cousineau, senior communications manager for Lafarge Canada, said the company has learned a lot over the past 10 years.

“We are doing basically a research project to see if tires would be a longer-term option for the kiln as a low-carbon fuel for the Brookfield plant,” Cousineau said. “What we’re doing is looking to replace some of the petcoke (petroleum coke) and the coal that we are using to heat up the kiln by using alternative fuels.”

She said the company has partnered with Dalhousie to evaluate the environmental effects of burning tires, something the company does in Europe, at 19 American plants and at a Canadian plant in Saint-Constant, Que.

“Even though we have a lot of data on this, it is a cautionary process. We’re doing things in order. We want to test the environmental impacts at the Brookfield plant before going on to the next step.”

Cousineau said the company acted in a cavalier manner a decade ago when it attempted to initiate a tire-burning program.

“To be honest, it was done in a cocky way. The company just came in and said, ‘We’re going to burn tires.’ The population said, ‘Wait a minute.’ We realized that this is not the way to bring change. We need to be a lot more open and transparent. We need to address the neighbours’ concerns, which are completely normal.”

With that in mind, the company set up five meetings with residents between September and February, including three meetings with homeowners who live on Shortts Lake, adjacent to the plant.

“We recognize that we need to proceed cautiously,” Cumming said. “We’ll be doing emission testing with Dalhousie University. We’ll be sharing the results with the public. We’ve made that commitment to the community and we’ll stand by that. We won’t call this project done until we’ve met with the community and show our results.”

Cumming said the results that the company will share should be very positive.

“What we’ve learned from the work that Dr. Mark Gibson has done is that scrapped tires are very promising low-carbon fuel for us. There is 30 per cent lower carbon intensity compared with coal. There is a high probability of NOx reduction as well.”

Nitrogen oxides are gases that contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.

Still, residents remain unconvinced.

Retired ministers Don Murray and Emily Kierstead live on the shores of the lake.

“We’re sitting overlooking the lake, which is absolutely beautiful, and on some Saturday mornings, we can see little black smoke coming up from Lafarge across the lake, about 1.5 to two kilometres away,” said Murray, 83.

Kierstead, 75, did a PowerPoint presentation that was submitted to the Environment Department 10 years ago when the couple was involved in the fight to prevent tire-burning.

“It’s pretty bad when you look at the number of dioxins and furans,” she said of the toxic chemicals that can be emitted from the plant in the tire-burning process. “They are the really dangerous guys. You can’t see them, they are such tiny particles. They are the things that people don’t really know about that does affect people up to 50 to 100 kilometres away and they are more dangerous for infants and small children. It has been known that it does change the incidence of heart attacks and lung problems and asthma.”

Murray said the lake residents are particularly susceptible because most depend on the lake for drinking water.

Like Kierstead, Durkee has been to one of the open houses, but she didn’t come away feeling reassured that a tire-burning process would be safe.

“I feel kind of in the dark,” Durkee said. ”They’ve yet to show me anything. They were to have this report done. As far as I know, they haven’t done any testing at the plant. They are supposed to have a new filtration system in the stack. Is it there already?”

Residents are worried, she said.

“With everything that is in the air anyway. All of our problems aren’t because of Lafarge, but there is no let-up. It’s the cumulative thing that people are starting to worry about.”

Durkee mentioned everything from glyphosate spraying in wooded areas to the application of other herbicides and now the return of a tire-burning application.

“It’s something on top of something, on top of something. We’ve got (genetically modified) crops. I’m 56 years old. It’s not going to kill me. But long term, what is it going to do to somebody who is born next Tuesday? That’s the concern. We don’t have the health-care system to look after this stuff if we are making ourselves sick.”

Opened in 1965, the plant employs about 70 people.

“We certainly support the people who work in the plant,” Kierstead said. “They don’t have much say in this. Our argument is not with local people, but it is with the head office in Paris.”

Having studied the tire-burning process for a decade, Gibson said it makes sense from an emissions and environmental standpoint.

“Part of the assessment is to measure the emissions from the stack before tires are put in and to measure after. Then it’s to look at the data, and it will be free for everybody to look at.

“There is an improvement in emissions, basically replacing 15 per cent of the coal and petcoke. Fossil fuels are not a good thing. We should leave them in the ground. Coal has mercury in it. The tires have significantly less mercury, basically zero compared with coal.”

He said the tires are made from rubber that comes from a rubber tree.

“It is a much more sustainable way of dealing with carbon because the rubber tree sucks the carbon out of the air in a few years, whereas fossil fuels, it takes millions. That carbon cycle feedback is much quicker, better and sustainable than using coal.”

And he said the burning process creates jobs for people transporting and handling the tires and it provides a means to dispose of scrap tires.

Cumming said the tires will be burned at 1,600 C in the kiln.

“I’ve seen cement plants using tires elsewhere and you can’t even see it disappear, it’s that quick. Any steel belts and that sort of material will drop to the bottom of the kiln. We need iron to make cement, by the way, so the steel belts are turned into cement.”

The environmental assessment for the trial application was to result in a decision last week, but that was pre-empted by the election call. A 30-day public comment period ended in late April and drew six public comments.

Cumming said that when the permit is issued and the installation of a continuous emission monitoring system is complete, it will take up to another five months to get employees trained and to get the system up and running. He estimated that tire-burning tests would not begin until early 2018.

And the tests will determine if tire-burning can be done on a permanent basis.

“They are getting measured,” Gibson said of dioxins, furans and heavy metals. “That, of course, is the big concern of everybody, and it’s understandable that folks focus on that. I would suggest also focusing on CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But they will be tested. Lafarge will be spending an awful lot of money on getting all of that done before and during the trial. They will repeat the test and look at the differences of dioxins and furans and all the other pollutants and if there is a significant difference, I will have to say to Lafarge and everyone, ‘Hey, this is not a good idea.’ ”


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