Insulation Plant Under Construction Near Harpers Ferry Generates Local Outcry

In July 2018, ground was broken for the construction of an insulation manufacturing plant in Jefferson County, West Virginia. This 24-hour-a-day Ranson plant will melt basalt and spin it into fiber that will be used in insulation for homes and businesses, bringing roughly 150 jobs to the local economy. A similarly sized Rockwool plant in Romania boasts another 300 jobs indirectly provided through services and logistics. This plant will be built near Route 9, in close proximity to where the AT enters Harpers Ferry. The town has given unanimous opposition to the project.  

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Other communities in the region are equally upset. Although local politicians state that locals seem to have missed their chance to speak up, one cannot say that Rockwool has been acting in good faith with this community about the negative effects they may be bringing to the region. In a technologically advanced world where your pocket buzzes with instant notifications, the only legal requirement for the county is to pin notices to the courthouse door. Many feel this is an inadequate method of engaging local communities given current technology. Furthermore, two lawsuits were filed last week alleging that Rockwool has violated the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act by arranging a closed-door meeting with local politicians at a Shepherdstown hotel and not providing documentation of the contents of this meeting.

Environmental Concerns

According to their air quality permit application, Rockwool estimated the factory will emit the following from their 21-story smokestacks:

  • 239 tons of nitrogen oxides,
  • 470 tons of volatile organic compounds,
  • 148 tons of sulfur dioxide,
  • 134 tons of particulate matter (less than 2.5 microns), and
  • 153,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Additional sound and air pollution will be created by the 100 trucks expected to be coming and going from the plant daily.

Long-term exposure to these gases can cause respiratory conditions such as asthma or infections (NOx), changes in lung function and decreased fertility (SO2). Carbon dioxide is the foremost greenhouse gas, making up 81% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Although Rockwool claims these are well within the legal emission limits, they are still intending to install air monitors at the elementary school across the street from the plant in order to monitor air quality. Other unregulated gases such as formaldehyde will be emitted from the plant as well.

Further Reading: Expert Weighs in on Potential Effects of Rockwool Facility

Local geology includes karstic features which, when exposed to water, can dissolve and cause sinkholes. Furthermore, karst bedrock demonstrates unpredictable permeability and porosity. This is significant because Rockwell intends to store wastewater in sediment ponds, which have already been proven to contain sinkholes. This eliminates the purpose of sediment ponds, which is to allow toxic particulate waste to settle. A sinkhole could cause these sediments to enter local groundwater sources. Even if they apply a lining to the bottom of the sediment ponds, subsidence could breach these liners and allow the waste through. Following a Sept. 11 site inspection, Rockwool received a notice of violation from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection due to finding a sinkhole on the property. They were cited for five other violations regarding their stormwater-discharge permit.

How to Help

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You don’t need to be opposed to industry or development, but the community has a right to be heard, and they are speaking up. If you are interested in getting engaged in this issue, whether you don’t want such a huge facility located near a National Scenic Trail like the AT, or if you want to put pressure on Rockwool to act in better faith with the local community, check out the below links.

You can join over 12,000 others in signing an online petition encouraging the Jefferson County Commission and Board of Education to each pass a resolution disapproving of Rockwool’s location in the heart of Jefferson County. A Facebook group of over 11,000 members called “Citizens Concerned Against Rockwool Ranson, WV” (Twitter) has sprung up. If you live locally, check out some of the open houses Rockwool has been holding to engage with the community.

Further Reading: Something Rotten in Denmark

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Comments 1

  • Matt Foster : Nov 6th

    Good information! I live in MN where they are moving forward with a mining company right next to a main river flowing in the boundary waters area without electing to study the effects of the mine. People need to wake up, get educated, and think long-term for their communities, states, and country. To me, voting means putting people in positions of power that work for the people, not private companies. Hopefully today is a nice step forward for the country!


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