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Cement makers see profit in waste

For Hernando County cement makers, hazardous waste and old tires couldmean big profits. But the innovative proposals have met with intense

opposition from local residents, who say the burning could endanger their health.

Both of the county's cement makers now plan to cut fuel costs by burning waste, including liquid hazardous waste, solid hazardous waste and used tires.

The experimental proposals to burn hazardous waste and used tires have angered local people, but industry officials say the waste-burning is nothing more than a way to stay competitive.

"We've got a long-term perspective in this company to be in business tomorrow - in the year 2000 and beyond," said Charles "Bud" Coleman, Florida Mining & Materials Corp. vice president and general manager. "To do that, you can't fall asleep at the switch."

The company hopes to save on fuel costs and to make a profit by charging to dispose of some hazardous wastes.

Coleman won't say how much the company would save, but industry estimates at other cement plants range from $1-million to $3-million.

Coleman said the company's savings will amount to about 10 percent of operating costs.

Florida Mining announced in September 1988 it plans to ship, store and burn 6-million gallons of liquid hazardous waste to replace some of the coal it now burns in its kilns. Company officials later broadened the proposal to include solid hazardous waste packed in 6-gallon containers, and shredded tires.

Southdown Inc., Florida Mining's parent company, is planning eventually to burn waste in all of its eight cement plants. The Brooksville plant will be one of the first.

Florida Crushed Stone Co. also submitted a plan to the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) to try burning shredded tires for fuel. Under the proposal, which has not been approved by the state, the company would produce about 10 percent of the heat needed to make its cement for one month with burning tires, according to the DER.

Florida Crushed Stone officials did not return telephone calls for this story.

Coleman acknowledged that Florida cement manufacturers are under intense pressure to cut costs because the selling price for cement here is among the lowest in the country.

Florida's building boom and easy accessibility by water make it an

attractive market for cheap cement from Mexico, Greece and Spain. One ton of cement brings about $40 in Florida, compared with $60 in California, according to Michael Harris, a securities analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc. in Memphis.

Because fuel is the largest cost in making cement - between 25 and 40 percent of the total - burning waste can make a significant dent in the production cost.

Coleman said those pressures mean that his company - and his competitor in Hernando - must strive to cut costs.

"I think they recognize the same thing we do - you've got to be innovative in this industry," he said.