In this photo from 2020, the WSP zinc plant construction continues and is scheduled to be ready to operate this spring. CNHI News Indiana photo by Tim Bath
In this photo from 2020, the WSP zinc plant construction continues and is scheduled to be ready to operate this spring. CNHI News Indiana photo by Tim Bath
The last necessary approval for the zinc reclamation plant outside Clymers is the air permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management [IDEM] and its Office of Air Quality [OAQ].

When that could be issued is still uncertain, though.

The reason for the wait is IDEM has to go through the comments made by residents of Cass County and the surrounding area during a Dec. 17 public hearing on the 273-page draft permit and comments submitted by mail, email, fax or phone during the Nov. 16 to Dec. 21 comment period.

“Due to the volume and complexity of many of the comments, it is difficult to predict how long it will take to complete the responses,” IDEM Director of External Relations Sarah Boncik stated in a recent email. “Once IDEM completes our responses, the U.S. EPA will have 45 days to review the final permit and responses to the comments before the permit can be issued. It may take several months to complete this process.”

The IDEM-OAQ Air Permit is also known as a clean air permit.

It regulates what substances an industry — in this case the Waelz Sustainable Products (WSP) plant west of the Cass County Agribusiness Park — can emit through its smokestacks and in what amounts.

“This draft includes emission limitations, compliance monitoring requirements, compliance determination requirements, as well as recordkeeping and reporting requirements,” Boncik stated in a Nov. 20 email.

WSP plans to begin operations in the second quarter of 2021, sometime from April to June.

“The issuance of the operating permit from IDEM will allow WSP to complete construction of and operate the facility,” according to a statement from General Manager Mike Englert.

WSP is a joint venture between Indianapolis-based Heritage Environmental Services and Zinc Nacional of Monterrey, Mexico.

The permit will cover both this phase and a second kiln in Phase II, Englert stated.

At least 68 people were on the Dec. 17 online, virtual public hearing, although not all spoke.

WSP officials weren’t able to give input or ask questions during the public hearing because the hearing is a response to the draft permit that’s based on the company’s application.

A common concern from people speaking at the hearing was the designation of the WSP plant as a secondary smelting and refining operation on the permit.

“The facility is a secondary metal processing plant,” said Dr. Indra Frank of the Hoosier Environmental Council and a physician who specializes in pathology and environmental health.

If the permit had the proper designation, the plant would be subject to additional requirements and less emissions, Frank said.

She was the first to raise the question of designation, but others included it as part of their concerns.

Her concerns about the plant were lead, mercury and heavy metals released in emissions, and those are toxic to the human nervous system.

Frank also had concerns about carcinogen dioxins not being addressed properly and about the particle emissions allowed in the permit.

Smaller particles are harder to filter out and get into lungs.

“The people of Cass County deserve the full protection of the Clean Air Act,” she said.

Cass County resident Lora Redweik also wanted to see the secondary metal processing designation applied to the WSP plant.

According to Englert’s statement, the plant’s designation is consistent with the designation of similar plants in the United States.

“None of them are classified as secondary metals production facilities,” he stated.

Redweik also said during the hearing that the draft permit had no mention of the public being able to access the monthly report of operation that WSP is required to provide IDEM, and she thinks the public should be able to access them.

Dr. James Rybarczyk, a retired professor of analytical chemistry and environmental chemistry at Ball State University, raised concerns about the amount of anthracite coal that will be used and emissions from that.

Rybarczyk was part of the team that fought WSP building in Muncie a year before the company began the process of building here.

He said the plant could use 17,200 tons a year, and the draft permit lists coal as “carbon.”

The draft permit doesn’t include regulations for a coal facility and byproducts such as sulphur, he said.

A man who identified himself as Danny Klotz and a former IDEM worker during the hearing wanted to know where the waste water and ash left from the Waelz process in the kiln will go.

Other people’s comments included the extra monitoring equipment that WSP agreed to with Cass County officials wasn’t listed in the draft permit, whether the Waelz kiln method used is technically a hazardous waste incinerator, the fact that lead and heavy metals accumulate and don’t dissipate over time, and that the wind usually blows from the WSP site northeast to Logansport.

Others were concerned about what effects WSP emissions could have on crops (and the private report that ADM near the WSP site commissioned about its outside grain storage and hasn’t made public), the effects of emissions on waterways, the impact of WSP’s water usage on the aquifer, the apparent lack of plans for emergencies (including evacuation if necessary), the distance emissions could travel and the reputation Indiana has as one of the top states in the country for amount of pollution due to less stringent regulations.

Physician Monica Kowaleski said to IDEM officials participating in the virtual hearing, “If you notice, no one is speaking in favor of this. No one is for WSP.”

What people presented to IDEM could change the permit from the draft form.

“Comments that could affect the final permit decisions are those based on the regulations governing this permitting process (326 IAC 2), and technical issues related to the draft permit,” stated Boncik.

Comments most likely to spur a change are those about deficiencies in the regulatory determinations, in established limitations, in monitoring, in recordkeeping or in compliance requirements, she stated.

“IDEM will provide responses to all comments made during the hearing, as well as any other written comments received during the public comment period, as part of the response to comments in the final permitting decision,” said Boncik.

The state doesn’t always grant a public hearing for every permit with the comment period.

“IDEM routinely holds public hearings for permits that have significant public interest,” Bonick stated. “In this case, IDEM determined that it was appropriate to hold a hearing to allow the public an opportunity to provide testimony related to the permit.”

“I think it was totally due to the opposition,” said John Schwarz, the attorney in five lawsuits that had been filed about the plant.

He said the opposition sent many letters to IDEM, so it had the public hearing “right off the bat.”
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