The owners of a Joppa industrial property, already used for extensive recycling operations, want to add a process to covert discarded tires into fuel oil and carbon black, but their plan has been greeted with skepticism, if not downright hostility, from some members of the community.
Auston LLC is seeking requisite state and federal permits to locate a tire pyrolysis plant inside an existing building in the 1200 block of Pauls Lane, off Route 7 about a mile west of Route 152.
As the Maryland Department of the Environment reviews the company's air quality permit application, a grassroots group calling itself Stop the Tire Pyrolysis Plant! has been using social media and speaking out at community meetings about possible air pollution and increased truck traffic, among other concerns.
The group plans to show up and talk about its opposition during Tuesday night's session of the Harford County Council. Meanwhile, several residents peppered Auston's representatives with questions about the process and its environmental impact during a meeting Monday night of the Joppa/Joppatowne Community Advisory Board.
The opposition has spread "misleading information" and has unfounded concerns about the project, according to Dawn Peery, Auston LLC's managing partner and co-owner with her husband, John.
"The State of Maryland and EPA have very stringent requirements," Peery said. "They aren't going to approve something that is going to be harmful."
Nor, would she or her family get into something that could put others at risk, she said.
"We built this business, we are here every day, it's very hands on," said Peery who lives in Forest Hill but grew up in Joppa. "I'm not going to do something to jeopardize my kids or my dogs [who she brings to work with her] or the community."
Tammy Stewart, a Joppa resident who is part of the Stop the Pyrolysis Plant! group, said opponents believe the project hasn't received enough scrutiny from Harford County government, which is why they plan to appeal directly to the County Council.
The pyrolysis installation was not subject to a county Development Advisory Committee review because Auston LLC requested and was granted a waiver in January, county records show.
County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said the project met all requirements because the process is being contained within an existing building and there were no alterations proposed to the site plan or any structures.
But Stewart said Monday, "Basically this was all done somewhat under the table.They [the county] said this is permitted, but there are going to be hazardous materials and activities in an area not zoned for them."
The group contacted Councilman Mike Perrone, who represents the Joppa area, who in turn sent a letter to Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian, dated Sept. 6, that questions whether the 6-acre site's commercial/industrial, or CI, zoning permits what Auston proposes.
"Granted new technology does not always fit neatly into existing use classification; however; there are three use classifications … that a tire pyrolysis operations could arguably be placed within: petroleum refining, rubber reclamation, recycling center," Perrone wrote. "You are aware, none of these uses are permitted within the CI District. How then can the county take a position that a process that is essentially a combination of all three uses would be permitted?"
Perrone's letter was sent the day after MDE held an informational meeting on the air quality permit request at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall, which approximately 100 people attended, according to both Stewart and Peery.
Stewart said that was the first opportunity many people in the community had to learn what was being proposed by Auston, which has partnered with a California company, Green Envirotech Holdings Corp., or GETH, which will operate the pyrolysis plant.
One issue that arose during the power point presentation Peery and Mark Shaener, whom Peery said is working with her company on marketing, gave at the Joppa/Joppatowne CAB meeting Monday is air emissions.
The pyrolysis process involves heating shredded tires in a cylindrical reactor/furnace that has high heat – produced by electricity – but no oxygen, so the tires are essentially liquefied but not burned; in fact, Peery and Shaener went to great pains to stress the tires are not being incinerated.
From one ton of tires, they expect to get an equivalent of "Brent crude," or heavy oil, also known as "tire oil," that will be shipped to a third party refiner – about three barrels for a ton of tires. They'll also get 700 tons of carbon black residue which Peery said has a myriad of industrial uses, including for manufacturing new tires.
The recycling process also produces about 220 tons of scrap steel per ton of tires and 180 pounds of what is called syngas. The steel goes to metal recyclers, but the gas initially will be burned off, Shaener said. There is a possibility, however, that it can eventually be used to power other parts of Auston's operations.
There will be a thermal oxidizer erected on the site to burn off the gas and silos to hold the carbon black, according to the power point.
Although a slide showed emissions of carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide will be well within EPA allowable standards, Perry and Shaener were questioned about emissions of heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury which are known carcinogens.
Shaener said they are not aware of any such emissions, and although several people challenged them on that assertion, Peery reiterated again Tuesday morning there will be no heavy metal emissions.
The pyrolysis plant will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Peery said about 25 jobs will be created.
She said they expect to process about 35,000 tons of tires annually, which is about three times the amount they handle by more conventional shredding and separating at their site. Under that operation, most of the tires still end up being trucked away to landfills in Baltimore County and elsewhere.
Peery said Auston has been in operation for about 17 years, doing metals and tire recycling. The company also has a turf athletic field and leases part of its property to a baseball batting cages operator.
Pauls Lane is a private road used by Auston and one neighbor, a truck body company. Although they estimate between 22 and 25 truck trips daily in and out of the plant once it is operational, Peery said they won't all be large tractor trailer vehicles and she believes the traffic "won't be that much more" than what the company currently experiences.
Jay Apperson, a spokesperson for MDE, said via email Monday that the state agency is continuing to evaluate Auston's permit application. He also said there are "no other similar facilities in Maryland" to what Auston proposes.