One year ago this month, Rockwool North America announced the start of commercial production at its 130-acre insulation factory off Route 9 in Ranson. And it was five years ago that Governor Justice’s announcement of the Danish company’s plan to build a 460,000 square foot factory in Jefferson County sparked strong reactions. Some welcomed the new investment and jobs. Others voiced concerns over the factory’s location and potential impact on the region’s environment and quality of life. “Toxic Rockwool” signs still dot the landscape.
There were many questions in the community as the factory was starting up last year. Some of these questions have been answered over the past year and some still remain. To mark the factory’s first year of operations, The Observer contacted Rockwool and reviewed publicly available information to prepare this brief update.
What does Rockwool Ranson produce?
Five types of stone wool insulation used in residential and commercial construction and renovation.
How many people work there and what are they paid?
Consistent with projections, the factory runs three shifts with a total staff of 150; 10 open jobs are currently posted on the company’s website. Technicians (who make up approximately 80% of the factory’s workforce) earn between $38,400 to $55,000 annually plus benefits. Management salaries average $85,000.
Is water quality being affected?
A group of residents organized by Ranson-based Jefferson County Foundation (JCF) has started a well testing program to proactively monitor the area around the Rockwool Ranson factory for contamination. Last fall JCF’s tests detected elevated aluminum levels (see Aluminum in the Water Prompts Questions, The Observer Oct. 2021).
According to quarterly reports submitted to WVDEP by Rockwool, the factory exceeded benchmark stormwater discharge monitoring parameters for aluminum and other substances multiple times in 2021 causing the factory in January 2022 to close one of its stormwater outlets..
Is air quality at risk?
According to its temporary air permit, the Rockwool Ranson factory can emit significant amounts of a variety of pollutants. On May 23 of this year Rockwool Ranson filed an application with WVDEP for its permanent “Title V” operating air permit according to the non-profit Jefferson County Foundation (JCF), which is monitoring this process. Concerned that winds can carry and deposit health-threatening emissions and dust from the factory’s tall stacks and open areas near and far across the Eastern Panhandle and state lines, JCF and others want WVDEP and EPA to make Rockwool Ranson’s Title V permit take into account operating changes in the plant when determining the best available control technologies required under the Clean Air Act.
The next steps in the air permit process, according to the WDEP Citizen’s Guide, are that after the WVDEP publishes a draft Title V permit it must also: give notice to the public and any states within 50 miles of the factory; start a 30-day public comment period; and hold a public hearing if there is interest. The federal EPA must also review and approve the final permit and can receive public comments as well.
How can residents communicate with Rockwool Ranson?
In June 2021, a tribunal authorized to investigate complaints by the Danish government under international laws criticized Rockwool for not providing “meaningful opportunities for the relevant stakeholders to express their views during the planning and decision-making process of the [Ranson] manufacturing facility project.” Rockwool is hosting a “community conversation and factory tour” on Wednesday, September 7 at 6 – 8:30 pm. Pre-registration is required – email email@example.com.
For specific issues, the company suggests emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or contacting Rockwool Ranson’s community relations manager Paul Espinosa at email@example.com or 304-620-3197; or calling Rockwool’s toll-free North America customer service telephone number 800-265-6878.By Staff Contributor