In an article about Lafarge Corp.'s hazardous waste disposal business in Washington Business on Monday, the byline of correspondent John Dougherty was misspelled. (Published 9/19/90)

XENIA, OHIO -- Lafarge Corp.'s plants are doing more these days than making the company one of the nation's leading cement producers.

Four of them, by using the toxic byproducts of U.S. factories to help fire their kilns, have made the Reston-based company a force in the hazardous waste disposal business -- and a participant in the environmental debate that goes with the territory.

In this small town 15 miles east of Dayton, Lafarge's Systech Environmental Systems subsidiary gathers hazardous waste produced by more than 500 companies, including General Motors Corp., converting it into a fuel to supplement traditional fuels such as coal.

Systech earns money two ways: Its customers pay it to take the waste off their hands, and it gets a fuel that is cheaper than traditional sources. Last year Systech converted more than 500 million pounds of such waste for four of Lafarge's 12 U.S. cement plants and two of its competitors' plants.

In the last decade, the cement industry, with Lafarge in the technological forefront, has surpassed the hazardous waste incineration industry as the largest burner of commercial hazardous waste in the country.

Twenty-six cement plants burned more than 1.8 billion pounds of liquid hazardous waste last year, said the Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition. Commercial hazardous waste incinerators burned about 1.6 billion pounds of mostly solid hazardous waste, according to the National Solid Waste Management Association.

"In the future, cement plants will be valued for two reasons," said Systech President Tom Wittmann. "They will provide an important building material, portland cement, and they will play a major role in waste management technology."

Environmental and citizens groups that have fought the hazardous waste incineration industry for years take another view -- that the kinds of wastes the kilns are allowed to burn create a health hazard.

"We are facing a slow-moving Bhopal," said Jeff Cartwright-Smith, an organizer of the Greene Environmental Coalition in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which wants to stop a Southdown Corp. cement kiln from burning 34 million pounds of hazardous waste annually.

Lafarge and its competitors face opposition from another quarter as well.

The hazardous waste incineration industry -- which burns mostly solid hazardous wastes, rather than the liquid wastes that cement producers use -- has stepped up its attacks against cement producers by pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its regulation of the kilns.

The incineration industry, analysts said, is concerned that cement producers, free from meeting expensive federal regulations, have developed technologies that will allow them to burn solid waste and lure away lucrative contracts.

"The solids {are} where the real money is," said Debra G. Coy, a hazardous waste analyst with Washington Analysis Corp., a Washington consulting firm.

Industry analysts said the cement producers' competitors also fear a repeat of what happened when they began burning liquid hazardous waste: More options for disposing of the waste pushed down the price companies had to pay for disposal.

The EPA itself helped the cement producers emerge as competitors of the solid-waste incinerators in the last few years, analysts said.

The agency exempted cement kilns and about 1,000 other industrial boilers and furnaces from rules applied to commercial hazardous waste incinerators because the EPA considered them to be recyclers, using hazardous waste to manufacture a product.

At the same time, the agency ran tests at several kilns and concluded they could safely burn hazardous waste. State air pollution regulators, relying on the EPA tests, typically granted permits to cement companies seeking to burn hazardous waste.

Technology and economics also helped. Hazardous wastes burn at the high temperatures needed to produce cement from clay, sand and limestone, and they are relatively cheap compared with traditional fuels.

Given all those reasons, Lafarge, the eighth-largest public company in the Washington area with 8,200 employees and $1.5 billion in sales last year, jumped into the field by purchasing Systech in 1986.

Lafarge invested millions of dollars in making its U.S. cement plants able to burn hazardous waste. The firm was able to reduce the fuel bill at its Alpena, Mich., cement plant by at least 20 percent, and keep its Fredonia, Kan., plant economically viable, Wittmann said.

Most of the wastes come from producers of solvents, inks, cosmetics, toys, medical supplies and electronics and autos. The EPA allows cement kilns to burn more than 125 different chemical compounds, many of which contain low amounts of chlorinated solvents and a wide range of heavy metals, including lead, chromium and barium.

Environmental groups claim the chlorinated wastes provide the right conditions for creating emissions of dioxin -- an extremely toxic compound, although it has not been positively linked to serious health problems in humans. Highly toxic chemicals like PCBs and pesticides aren't allowed for use in cement kilns.

In the last year, community groups in towns like Lebec, Calif., Cottonwood, Ariz., and Yellow Springs, Ohio, were formed with the help of the environmental group Greenpeace to oppose the cement producers.

EPA is preparing to tighten the rules on what cement kilns can burn, but the new regulations are not expected to be issued until next year and cement producers will have several years to meet the standards.

Systech, which saw its revenue jump 31 percent in 1989, has no intention of slowing its expansion in the face of opposition and is developing a technology to burn solid hazardous waste that companies pay about $500 per 55-gallon drum just to get rid of.

Company officials said their technical arguments, backed by EPA data, will convince communities that burning hazardous waste in cement kilns is not a health threat. "All we are asking for is the right to go through the permitting process," Wittmann said.

As for the hazardous waste incineration industry, Wittmann said, cement kilns cannot absorb all the hazardous waste U.S. companies produce. "We believe there is room for both of us because we can only accept select wastes," he said.