In April, the Mexican building materials giant announced it had cut particulates emissions at its Rugby works by 80% after investing £6.5 million in a bag filter abatement system.
The company claimed the improvement was evidence of its commitment to sustainability. In fact, it was necessary to comply with the waste incineration Directive, because the site’s existing electrostatic precipitators were unable to meet the new PM10 limit of 30 milligrams per cubic metre which came into force in January. The site is caught by the Directive because it uses scrap tyres as a substitute fuel.
Cemex acquired the works in 2005 when it bought UK firm RMC. It is one of the largest kilns in the country, producing 1.8 million tonnes of cement per year.
Controversy has surrounded the site, partly because of its presence near the town centre and close to residential areas, but also because of fears over the health impact of burning waste fuels.
EU guidance on the best available techniques (BAT) that cement manufacturers should use to control pollution recommends bags filters to control particulates. But the company argued against the need to fit new abatement, despite the risk of increased dust emissions from tyre burning. It insisted that bag filters could not be used because of the wetness of the raw materials fed into the kiln and that ESPs provided adequate protection.
The Agency agreed with the company, despite the local primary care trust’s concerns over the public’s exposure to dust emissions, and issued a permit on that basis in 2003.
The recent investment Cemex was forced to make raises doubts over the previous management’s technical argument against bag filters.
Questions may also be asked about the Agency’s BAT decision. It appears that either the waste incineration Directive has forced Cemex to spend millions on unneeded abatement, or the Agency’s view that ESPs constituted BAT for the works was wrong.
Agency sources say privately that the bottom line is to ensure its decisions are "court proof" - defensible against a legal challenge by a company. The cost-benefit case for one technique over another can be difficult to prove, whereas the ELV in the waste incineration Directive is mandatory.
Although EU guidance documents on BAT, known as BREFs, provide a wealth of information on the performance and cost of pollution control techniques, it falls to the Agency to prove they are BAT in the UK.
The status of BREFs is also weak. Their recommendations are non-statutory, and the IPPC Directive does not even refer directly to them. The only mandatory requirement on operators is to use BAT.
One case involving Quinn Glass underlines the perils of making BAT decisions. An IPPC permit issued by Chester City Council to the glassmaker was quashed by the High Court because it failed to require the company to use BAT (ENDS Reports 370, pp 11-12 and 371, pp 49-50 ).