The company that wants to build a zinc reclamation plant near Clymers held two virtual town hall meetings, one Thursday night and one Friday at noon.
The two meetings started identically with Waelz Sustainable Products Holdings (WSP) officials explaining what the plant would do and stressing their environmental credentials.
The company’s officials then took questions from the audience, although they announced Friday that because of problems with the system they were using, some questions didn’t get through on Thursday and were instead answered on the company’s website, www.wspcasscounty.com
There were 225 people who logged into the two sessions, according to a company spokesman.
The company plans to build the plant near the intersection of County Roads 300 South and 375 West. Two kilns would take electric arc furnace dust that is a byproduct of recycle steel and process it so it will be separated into zinc and iron, which the company will market.
“We are taking a material that was thrown away and recycling it. It’s an alternative to mining,” said Patricio Madero, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development for Zinc Nacional.
WSP is a partnership between Zinc Nacional of Monterrey, Mexico, and Heritage Environmental Services out of Indianapolis. Zinc Nacional is one of the largest manufacturers of zinc oxide and zinc sulfite, said Madero.
The company still intends to have public meetings and to interact with Cass County citizens at county meetings, said Ali Alavi, senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel for Heritage Environmental Services.
The plant will employ about 90 workers with an average annual pay of $49,000, Alavi said. The annual payroll will be $4.5 million.
When asked how many of the jobs would be at the lowest annual payment listed on the website, officials repeated the average and median salaries being more than $40,000.
Alavi said Cass County didn’t give a $52 million incentive but that the county gave a tax relief and gave land it had bought for another project that fell through. He estimated Cass County’s investment at about $1.2 million.
When asked whether WSP would go through with the plant if there weren’t those incentives, Alavi said that proceeding to build with those incentives is the current plan.
WSP chose Cass County because of the roughly 100 mini mills in the country that recycle steel nine are in Indiana.
Kathryn Kelly, an environmental toxicology specialist, said any lead or mercury emissions would be less than 1 percent allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. She said she based this on tests in other zinc reclamation towns and didn’t find elevated mercury or lead levels in those towns.
“Lead [in the air] is lost product. It’s not waste they’re trying to get rid of,” she said.
Kelly said that the plant will use natural gas as fuel.
The anthracite, known as hard coal, used in the process is a reactant as needed carbon and ends up in the final products with no sulfur or coal ash coming from it.
She also said that a similar Korean plant put out so little mercury over three years that it couldn’t be detected.
“The amount of mercury in [electric arc furnace] dust has been dropping,” Alavi said.
It’s become standard practice to remove switches containing mercury from cars before recycling them, he said.
The dust coming into the site will be in sealed rail cars, and the dust is brought in through negative pressure, which means air would flow into the plant, not out.
WSP doesn’t want to lose the dust because that would be a loss of money, he said.
Darcy Ackerman, Heritage Environmental Services Senior Vice President, said that one of Heritage’s strengths is emergency response, which they also do for others.
Alavi said that safety plans also include drills.
The amounts listed on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management air quality permit is a worst-case scenario. If the emission amounts do go over the usual amounts, the kilns won’t have to close down if still within safe amounts.
In response to another question, Alavi said that WSP left Muncie because of a campaign of misinformation that locals started about the plant and because some officials, including the mayor, were arrested by the FBI.
He also said that, despite the amount of land the facility will have, “right now, there are no plans on the books for any growth.” The extra land is a buffer and would be for any related businesses.
“We will not be building a hazardous waste incinerator there,” he said.
Ackerman said that it WSP would also not be building a zinc smelter on the land.
Part of the size is to easily get rail cars to ship in the dust and ship out the product to the factory.
“That’s another critical reason we picked Cass County as well,” she said.
Madero said that his company always builds on large pieces of land because the officials don’t know what the market will be like in 30 to 40 years.