Exclusive look: A tour inside VA Titan plant

TROUTVILLE, VA (WECT) – WECT recently sent reporter Ashlea Kosikowski to Troutville, Virginia, to gain a perspective from nearby residents and officials regarding a Titan America cement plant there called Roanoke Cement.

During her time there, Kosikowski also got to take a tour inside the cement plant. She got a behind the scenes look inside of the facility. There, plant officials opened up about the plant's records and showed her some unique elements about their operations.

Roanoke Cement Environmental Manager, Lance Clark, and production manager, Dan Babish, drove Kosikowski through the plant, which was constructed in the 1950s.

Babish described the cement-making process, which involves mining limestone on site.

"We mine 90 percent of the raw materials that are required to make cement on site," said Babish. "Then, we're heating up that rock to close to 3000 degrees."

In a kiln, the limestone is mixed with a material called gypsum, which is a byproduct of coal-fired electric plants. From there, it's ground into cement.

Because limestone naturally contains mercury, the process sends mercury emissions out of the stacks with other particulates and pollutants. But Clark says emissions have been dropping, thanks to the installation of something called a baghouse, which cleans the air coming out of the stack.

"That baghouse was not mandated by any state or federal agency," said Clark. "We put that on to help lower our emissions. When you get into voluntary things like that, I think that shows our environmental stewardship."

That's not the only investment Titan's made in the plant.

When Titan bought the facility in the 1990s, the company spent millions of dollars to upgrade the plant and make it more energy efficient. After that, the company went on to receive an environmental excellence award.

Currently, the plant recycles 40 percent of its energy, which is something the team is proud of. Still, there's more to the plant that the employees are happy about.

At the bottom of a steep hill lies a pond where a quarry used to lie. It was transformed after one of the employees came up with the idea of converting into a trout pond.

Employees can fish at the plant, and every year, the plant has a trout fishing tournament for local children.

Close by, bees are buzzing about quickly to make honey inside of a hive, and a nearby apple orchard produces fruit for the employees to take home.

Clark and Babish say the plant's environmental commitment goes beyond just the gates.

Clark regularly attends meetings with local environmental leaders, and the plant participates in efforts to clean up creeks and maintain mountain trails.

"Have you been a good environmental partner?" asked Kosikowski.

"Yes, absolutely," said Clark. "I think we are recognized for our environmental stewardship as well as energy management and energy reduction. Here, we realize it is not our right to manufacture this product, cement. We are more or less at the will of the community. We recognize that we have an impact on the community. But, at the same time, we think we have a positive impact."

A lot of folks in New Hanover County have expressed concerns over mercury emissions that the plant in Castle Hayne would cause.

Clark provided WECT with figures on mercury emissions at Roanoke Cement, which show the plant was emitting an average of six pounds of mercury a year up until 2010. That year, the industry started measuring emissions a bit differently, and then, the average increased to 48.

Currently, there are no EPA limits on mercury emissions. However, new EPA regulations scheduled to begin in 2013 will go into effect for the cement industry – capping current plants at 55 pounds per year.

Plants built after May 6, 2009 are capped at 21 pounds per million tons of clinker produced, which is a material that is part of the cement making process .

Therefore, for the proposed Carolinas Cement plant in New Hanover County, which has a capacity of 2.19 million tons of clinker per year, the total estimated mercury emissions are 45.99 pounds per year.

Still, the company says the total could be less than that, and that this figure is based on the plant running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Compared to Carolina Cement's 2009 draft air permit, kiln emissions for the proposed plant are now 82 percent lower for mercury due to the environmental regulations that will go into effect for new plants.

According to the EPA Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website, in 2006, the company was cited for incomplete record keeping during a stack test; but, this did not result in any emission violations. The test was re-conducted and the proper records were generated.

In 2004, there was an issue with dust caused by trucks driving on unpaved roads at the facility. The company said that with weather that was 15 degree outside, they couldn't water the road to prevent the dust due to frozen nozzles on their watering trucks.

The company paid a $5,000 dollar fine for that issue. Since then, they haven't been fined for anything else.

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