Coal Health

Rockwool USA Wants To Poison School Kids and Pollute D.C.’s Drinking Water Supply. Yes, Really!

Photo Credit: Morgan Sell / Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool

In case you haven’t heard, Rockwool North America (@rockwoolna) is building a toxic, heavy-polluting factory near 4 schools in West Virginia, near Washington DC. Yes, they want to poison school kids and pollute the Potomac watershed, which is the drinking water supply for the greater Washington, DC area!

Here’s a brief summary of what is currently unfolding in Jefferson County, WV, just 60 miles west of Washington, DC:

Rockwool Group is a multibillion dollar multinational corporation headquartered in Denmark. Their primary product is mineral wool, a kind of insulation made by melting stone and slag, then spinning it into insulation fibers and binding them with various chemicals including formaldehyde. The process is very energy intensive and has a large toxic emissions and trucking footprint.

In 2017, Rockwool worked in secret with the West Virginia state government, namely West Virginia’s Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, and a handful of local officials on a plan to build a giant factory in a residential, rural area, at the site of a former apple orchard that’s across the street from an elementary school. There are actually 4 schools and 2 day care centers near the site. The site lacks industrial water, gas, and sewer service, and does not have appropriate road infrastructure. It is located on sinkhole prone karst geology, creating groundwater risks county-wide. Their plan is to build the factory with 2 giant, 21-story smokestacks that will spew toxic pollution 24-7, non-stop. Keep in mind that West Virginia’s Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher owns a large energy company involved with natural gas pipelines and coal mining operations, The Thrasher Group.

The factory would burn about 90 tons of coal every day, as well as burn natural gas. Again, this is near 4 schools and 2 day care centers. It’s worth noting that West Virginia code prohibits constructing schools near “odoriferous plants or industries;” however, there is apparently no rule prohibiting such factories being built next to an existing school. The World Health Organization recommends that schools not be located “within two miles of facilities that release toxic chemicals into the air or land.” 

The City of Ranson has rules against such heavy industry being built in residential areas. According to documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Jefferson County Development Authority director at the time, John Reisenweber, told Ranson’s city manager to “waive” the rules of Ranson for such heavy industry. Ranson’s mayor, once employed at the Alcoa aluminum plant in Maryland, apparently supported the JCDA director and president against his city manager’s objections.

Rockwool and its government allies used a secretive process to obtain permits, state (taxpayer) funding, and zoning and tax changes. Most of the officials involved in this initial process have resigned or lost re-election. There was no general public workshop about the project impacts until August 2018, after vocal opposition had already emerged. 

In summer, 2018, the Jefferson County Development Authority forcibly took the engineering contract to build the waterline to Rockwool from Ranson and its firm, Toole Design, and gave it to Woody Thrasher / Thrasher Engineering, an obvious conflict of interest. The separate plans for providing water, sewer, and natural gas to the site with state support were kept from public review. The County Commission voted at that same meeting for a $4.8 million tax break (payment in lieu of taxes) to Rockwool, through the JCDA. Ironically, Reisenweber went to school for Biology and Environmental Policy. Send him a message and let him know how you feel. Here’s his Facebook page.

Then, Ranson changed its zoning to allow for the factory with little public notification.

Permissions needed for the project from state agencies were granted, consistent with the goals of Thrasher’s WV Commerce Department, coincidentally then staffed by the JCDA’s current director and, since January, 2018, the wife of the president of the JCDA.

In November of 2017, air emissions from raw data from another Rockwool plant, reworked through advantageous modeling, were published as required by law in a local newspaper the day before Thanksgiving. 

Proposed Rockwool Insulation Plant Smoke Stack Visibility. Download the PDF file here

An $84 billion deal was signed in November, 2017 by China Energy’s representative and, for West Virginia, by Woody Thrasher. As stated, the details and MOU are still withheld from the public. Thrasher was later fired from his WV Commerce Secretary job in the summer of 2018 and is under investigation for mishandling seven-digit sums of money. 

Since Thrasher’s firing, Rockwool has progressed more slowly than forecast with permits, as one example, to building access to the factory, preconstruction and the factory building permits still unissued. Rockwool’s CEO on an investor call in February, 2019 incorrectly stated “we have the permits and are moving forward.”

Rockwool is also having problems with getting natural gas to the site, one of their key expectations. It appears for now that natural gas will no longer be available, due to a decision by the Maryland Public Works authority to deny an easement, across the Potomac River and into West Virginia to a provider of natural gas from the north.

Despite not having the required permits or the gas line, factory construction is in progress and Rockwool hopes to begin operations in 2020. 

UPDATE: In a surprise move, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued the final permit necessary for Mountaineer Gas to build a gas pipeline to service the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, ignoring repeated requests to reschedule a public hearing on the matter. The decision was reportedly made at the highest levels of the agency, by DEP Secretary Austin Caperton himself:

WVDEP Approval of Rockwool Gas Pipeline Permit Made in ‘Bad Faith,’ Opponents say

Austin Caperton is a former coal company executive. It’s mind-boggling that this person is in charge of the WVDEP. You can contact him to let him know how you feel at (304) 926-0440.

So, to summarize: Rockwool’s business model is melting rocks by burning tons and tons of coal. They want to emit huge amounts of several carcinogens near 4 schools, while polluting the Potomac watershed, the water supply for the greater DC area! This deal was made in secret, with ongoing deception from both Rockwool executives and state and local officials.

If any of this is alarming to you, please get involved! Join the protest groups on Facebook here:

CONCERNED CITIZENS AGAINST ROCKWOOL-RANSON, WV

Resist Rockwool

And be sure to like their pages here:

Jefferson County Vision

Resist Rockwool

Tell the Rockwool Group how you feel: Leave your comments on their tweets here: @rockwoolna and @ROCKWOOLInt and also on their Facebook page here: facebook.com/rockwoolna.

Most importantly, we should all contact West Virginia governor Jim Justice and Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito. Ask them why this factory is being allowed in the first place? If West Virginia code prohibits constructing schools near “odoriferous plants or industries,” why is there no rule prohibiting such heavy polluting factories from being built next to an existing school??

Read more about the toxic Rockwool factory and get the latest updates at www.toxicrockwool.com.

 

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