MARIETTA — At a recent meeting for its subsidiaries from around the world, Eramet featured a discussion of the good neighbor campaign that Ohio Citizen Action and Neighbors for Clean Air conducted at the Eramet manganese refinery in Marietta. The company invited me to participate in their July 20, 2011 meeting in Marietta to provide our unvarnished perspective on the campaign and the events that have followed. I described the conditions that led the neighbors to launch the campaign and provided observations of mistakes we felt the company made in its dealings with the neighbors during the campaign.
Afterward, I asked plant CEO John Willoughby what the company learned from the campaign. He told me they learned that the problem our campaign presented to them also offered opportunity, and that he learned that talk will not serve when action is required. Neighbors for Clean Air member Caroline Beidler asked at what point the neighbors stopped being enemies and started being stakeholders. Eramet spokesperson Joy Frank-Collins said neighbors were always stakeholders and it just took the right conditions for the company to take adequate actions and respond effectively.
This type of frank discussion and reflection was not always possible and represents progress since our victory in the Eramet campaign on August 30, 2008. At that time the company announced $150 million in investments to improve both the operational and environmental performance of the plant. Just two months later, the global recession began. Under the direction of former plant manager Frank Bjorklund, Eramet continued to meet with their neighbors and discuss how the new economic landscape would affect the announced improvements.
Eramet had already begun rebuilding its largest furnace, #1. Eventually, they also installed a baghouse to capture stack emissions. When all work on furnace #1 was completed, tests indicated a reduction in stack emissions of 25%plantwide. The global recession turned out to be a mixed blessing, at once both cancelling planned construction of a new, 40 MW furnace and also indefinitely idling the area of the plant from which the “Eramet smell” came. When new furnace construction was taken off the table, Eramet advanced plans to rebuild its smaller furnace #12 ahead of schedule.
In March 2009, Eramet began a process of laying off nearly 1/3 of its workforce and temporarily idled its furnaces in turn, both due to a downturn in demand and to conduct repairs and improvements. In March 2010, Eramet’s problem-plagued furnace #18 exploded, making it inoperable. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the company has yet to announce whether it will choose to repair or replace the furnace. Because of the idling of its furnaces, 2009’s Toxic Release Inventory showed significant emission reductions in all areas. To date, the plant is still not back to pre-recession production.
In addition to making progress on reducing manganese emissions and odors, Eramet has fulfilled its promise to continue communicating with its neighbors. In December 2009, members of Neighbors for Clean Air and Ohio Citizen Action board members and staff toured the plant, visiting the furnace #12 rebuilding project, inspecting work on the furnace #1 baghouse and witnessing a furnace tapping and casting operation.
— Melissa K. English, Development Director, Ohio Citizen Action