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Energy & Environment

Rockwool Facility In Jefferson County Under Investigation For Alleged Irresponsible Business Conduct

Hundreds gathered in Charles Town Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018 to protest a new manufacturing plant being built in nearby Ranson. The plant will manufacture stone wool insulation a few miles from public schools and neighborhoods.
Liz McCormick
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
In this photo from August 2018, hundreds gathered in Charles Town, W.Va. to protest a new manufacturing plant being built in nearby Ranson. The issue has sparked division among residents of Jefferson County and the nearby area for two years.

A Danish stone wool insulation manufacturing facility that has sparked two years’ worth of protests and division in the Eastern Panhandle is under investigation for political improprieties, air quality and water quality.

The investigation is being conducted by the Danish Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution for Responsible Business Conduct, also called NCP Denmark.

The organization announced this month it is starting a formal investigation into the Rockwool facility being built in Ranson, Jefferson County after receiving a complaint from residents in the county last October.

The complaint alleges that Rockwool violated the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD), which is an international organization that works to shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being, according to its website.

The complaint claims the company “neglected the recommended principles and standards of conduct associated with good corporate citizenship.”

“This complaint to the Danish Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution is being filed after many months of pursuing other legal and political mechanisms to stop or otherwise drastically improve the project,” the document states. “At this time, we have exhausted all other meaningful avenues available to us in the United States.”

NCP Denmark received the complaint from members of the West Virginians for Sustainable Development group, which is made up of residents of Jefferson County and the surrounding region, including West Virginia House of Delegates members Democrats John Doyle and Sammi Brown, as well as Jefferson County Commissioners Jane Tabb and Ralph Lorenzetti.

The complaint from West Virginians for Sustainable Development comes after two years of growing contention between Rockwool and locals.

The Rockwool facility in Ranson would make stone wool insulation by melting down basalt rock and recycled slag. Fibers are spun to create a wool-like material used to insulate buildings, industrial applications or acoustic ceilings. The company touts the product as “green” and says it is more viable than traditional fiberglass insulation. The product is also heat and water-resistant.

The facility in Ranson will be 460,000-square-feet and feature state-of-the-art technology, according to the company. It is expected to employ about 150 people earning wages between $35,000 and $85,000 a year. But the plant will also feature two, 21-story smokestacks releasing a range of chemicals including formaldehyde at 67.6 tons a year and benzene at 0.1 tons a year. Formaldehyde is listed as a possible carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, while many other scientific bodies say it is. Benzene, however, is considered a carcinogen.

Rockwool received its Air Quality Permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in April 2018.

The facility is also being built on former orchard land that’s within a few miles of four public schools and neighborhoods – the nearest school being a Title I elementary school, meaning many of its students come from low-income households.

The Rockwool company has said the impact to the environment would be minimal, noting that many of the chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are produced naturally in nature. They have also said that chemicals produced by gas-powered vehicles are worse and in higher quantities than what will come out of the smokestacks at the facility.

“We respect that some local citizens may have a different view and have a right to air their concerns,” said Rockwool’s former North American President Trent Ogilvie in an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting last year. “All we ask, is to engage in constructive, fact-based, open-minded conversation. We respect concern, and we just want to make sure we can engage and be transparent and answer their questions.”

But this has done little to quell residents’ fears or slow pushback who feel that any negative impacts to air quality is too much. They also say the location of the facility is inappropriate.

In the two years since it was announced that the company would be coming to West Virginia, there have been protests, rallies, pending lawsuits and public records requests. And now residents are seeking help from officials in Denmark.

“We are pleased that NCP Denmark believes this case merits further consideration,” said Rod Snyder, chair of West Virginians for Sustainable Development in a press release. “Local citizens have been working tirelessly for two years to have a meaningful say in economic development decisions in our community. Our primary goal is to achieve an outcome that is significantly more protective of air, water, and the health and safety of our children and families in Jefferson County and the surrounding region.”

Rockwool’s Vice President of Group Communications Michael Zarin responded to the complaint and investigation in an email to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“We are entirely confident that we have planned and are executing the project respecting all local and international requirements,” said Zarin. “Factory construction is well underway, and we are pleased to see significant interest in employment and economic development opportunities from the local community.”

While NCP Denmark is a non-judicial institution, the group can issue recommendations for best business practices and point out areas they deem as problems. The group strives to “create a framework for mediation, dialogue and conflict resolution” between entities, according to its website.

“As part of the investigation, NCP Denmark will primarily focus on the OECD Guidelines’ chapter II on General Policies (including paragraph 14 on stakeholder engagement), chapter IV on Human Rights, and chapter VI on Environment,” said NCP Denmark in its public announcement of the investigation.

The investigation is expected to be finalized in early 2021.

The Rockwool facility in Ranson is expected to be operational by spring 2021.

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