Jefferson County Residents in Uproar Over New Insulation Plant

Aug 10, 2018

Updated Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 at 8:10 a.m. with additional interviews, plus reactions from local residents and the Jefferson County Commission, and FAQs from the W.Va. DEP.

A new manufacturing plant is being built in Jefferson County and promises to bring 150 jobs to the region. But there’s major pushback from the community.

A couple hundred people from the Jefferson County area recently gathered outside the local Charles Town Library holding signs with phrases like, “No Toxic Rockwool” or “Citizens Against Rockwool.”

Rockwool is a Denmark-based company that manufactures stone wool insulation. This type of product is used in buildings, industrial applications and acoustic ceilings. It’s a fiber-based insulation produced from natural stone and recycled content.

A year ago, the company announced it would build a second U.S. facility in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Their first U.S. plant was built in Marshall County, Mississippi.

But several Jefferson County residents are concerned, because the plant is being built just a few miles from four public schools and will have a smokestack that will release a range of chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene.

“How can we stay here and raise our kids here? We can’t. We will move,” said Charles Town resident Nathan Decker. “If this happens, we’re gone.”

Decker’s sentiments were echoed by other locals as well – pointing to health concerns and environmental regulations.

“The issue is that our regulations are weak,” noted 22-year-old Aaron Hackett. “We have to stop selling out West Virginia, take the 'for sale' sign off our state and create jobs and preserve clean air, clean water. They’re not mutually exclusive. We can absolutely do both.”

A boy protests the Rockwool company with his family on Aug. 2, 2018 in Charles Town.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

About two weeks ago, a Facebook group called, “Citizens Concerned about Rockwool-Ranson, WV” was created by local woman Leigh Smith. Within days, the group grew to more than 4,500 members.

“We don’t want smokestacks, we don’t want industrialization; that’s not what we moved here for, and that’s not what most people want,” Smith said.

Jefferson County Commission President Josh Compton said at a recent meeting that he’s also concerned and wants the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to visit his community, explain the air quality permit they issued back in April and describe how the facility will be monitored.

Credit West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

“Over the next course of days, weeks, we’re going to see what powers we actually have and what we can do to resolve this situation,” Compton said.

No commissioners at the time of the meeting spoke for or against the plant, but, the following day, one of five Jefferson County Commissioners, Jane Tabb, stated in a post on Facebook that she no longer supported the Rockwool project due to air quality concerns and would work to “turn [the project] around.”

The DEP reports there will be continuous emissions monitors on key components of the facility. They also said the facility would be regularly inspected.

Air quality specialist Michael McCawley is a clinical associate professor at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences.

He said it’s difficult to say how much impact the chemical emissions might have over the long term, but that ultimately, it is a gamble. If weather conditions remained fair year-round, he said the chemical impact would be insignificant.

“There’s a concern about what might happen and how quickly people might react,” McCawley said. “Can we do the health surveillance that’s necessary to make sure that we’re not going to get an effect? And the answer is, we really don’t know.”

Rockwool stated on Twitter that air quality is one of its top priorities and that the plume from the stacks will mostly be steam.

Rockwool has not yet responded to requests for comment from West Virginia Public Broadcasting about air quality concerns or economic development. They did say, however, there would be a community open house at the end of August.

In June, the company broke ground and is expected to complete construction by 2020.