AUSTIN, Texas-Texas now is actively encouraging the use of tire-derived fuel as an alternative to coal at cement plants across the state. The Texas-Lehigh Cement plant in Buda, Texas, became the first facility to burn tires as part of the state's new incentive program, said Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).
Nine other plants throughout the state have received permission to follow suit. All want to use tires as fuel under a state law that offers companies 80 cents per waste tire to retrofit their plants to burn tires.
The project, which targets cement plants, paper mills and utilities, is funded by a state disposal fee of $2 on the sale of new car tires and $3.50 per new truck tire sale.
While the plan is expected to eliminate millions of old tires, opponents fear the potential for toxic emissions.
At one time, the TNRCC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shared those fears.
When Holnam Texas, a cement plant in Midlothian, applied to the state to burn tires before much was known about TDF, the TNRCC required Holnam to conduct tests for more than 50 contaminants.
Those findings coupled with an EPA study done in 1991 say used tires burn cleaner than some types of coal used in Texas, Mr. Hadley said.
The EPA study concluded that changes in emissions from using TDF at cement plants rather than coal are minor.
Sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions decrease although the release of carbon monoxide increases, the report states. Particulates also slightly increase.
The current program will monitor air quality and perform separate smokestack testing during the 90-day period following startup, Mr. Hadley said.
The natural resources commission said it will conduct public meetings to reveal test findings to residents, many of whom are wary because of Texas Lehigh's clouded history. The company's record of EPA violations has put the issue in the spotlight in Hays County, where the firm burns tires.
Since its first notice of violation in February 1987, the company has racked up 134 permit violations, resulting in $339,000 in fines and judgments, Mr. Hadley said.
A number of the violations dealt with excessive emissions-the latest took place in 1994-but the company now is considered in compliance, an EPA report said.
Two other plants approved for tire-derived fuel testing-Texas Industries and Capitol Cement-also have been cited for EPA violations.
The state's burden of waste tires is in part due to a crackdown on illegal tire dumps across the state. Most of the large dumps were eliminated, but the effort left a surplus of waste tires in its wake, Mr. Hadley said.
Texas has about 65 million waste tires. Of the 30 million tires legally disposed of each year, about 37 percent are recycled, Mr. Hadley said.