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Polis Report

Kaiser Tired

By Michael Learmonth

Almost two years ago in the hills above Cupertino, Kaiser Cement secretly replaced some of the Utah coal it normally uses to fire its kiln with 100,000 shredded tires. As reported in Metro ("Burning Rubber," Oct. 17, 1996) the move went over about as well as would secretly replacing the coffee Starbucks normally serves with Folgers crystals.

When the neighbors caught wind of it, so to speak, they raised hell. "I've never been an activist against corporations," says Ruth Scott, a 49-year-old parent living two miles from the plant. "But my house is in the center of Kaiser fallout."

Now, bowing to community pressure, Kaiser has given up its campaign to burn tires.

"We're in the business of making cement," explains a frustrated Earl Bouse, Kaiser vice president. "If it's going to be a drag-out fight for four or five years, why do it?"

After conducting a 45-day test burn, Kaiser touted tire-burning's utopian benefits. Americans discard about one tire per person (253 million) every year. The majority of those go to landfills and become mosquito-breeding fire hazards. Tires can be burned as cleanly as coal, Kaiser claimed, and all the nasty byproducts actually become a part of the cement.

If Kaiser could replace even 10 percent of the coal it burns with tires, it could literally cut its fuel costs by about that much and collect a tidy 10 cents a tire in tipping fees.

When the results came in, Kaiser put out full-color press kits showing decreases in some nasties like arsenic and 1,3 butadiene. But neighbors looked at the study and saw increases in dioxins, benzene and particulate matter.

Ruth Scott had been wiping a layer of gray Kaiser soot off her car for years. While Kaiser's emissions complied with the law, Scott wondered why she should have to put up with any new emissions at all.

Bouse, meanwhile, wonders why "a dedicated group of 20 people" should be able to block Kaiser's permit.

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From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 1997 issue of Metro.

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