Va. lawmaker: Rockwool factory ‘could cause irreparable harm’ to economy, health

WASHINGTON — A Virginia congresswoman has sent a letter Friday to the Environmental Protection Agency, expressing concern about the Rockwool insulation manufacturing plant being built a dozen miles across the border in Ranson, West Virginia.

In the letter, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., said the potential for air and water pollution “has understandably alarmed” citizens and farmers in the nearby Virginia county.

Denmark-based Rockwool melts rocks into molten lava, which is spun into fibers used for rock wool insulation for homes and businesses.

“The impact to Loudoun County could cause irreparable harm to the local economy, especially the agritourism industry,” wrote Comstock. “Those involved with our wine industry and our vineyards have informed me that even slight changes could significantly alter the quality of their wines, which they have spent years perfecting.”

In the letter to EPA regional administrator Cosmo Servidio, Comstock said the health effects “are of even greater concern” for residents living near the plant, which is being constructed on the site of a former apple orchard off Route 9. 

“Toxins will be spewed,” Comstock wrote. “These pollutants could include cancer-causing chemicals and damage intellectual development in children, along with causing serious heart and lung damage.”

As WTOP reported, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall voiced opposition to the plant being built one county away in Jefferson County, West Virginia.

“Obviously, I want West Virginia’s economy to do well, and I realize this factory will bring jobs, but there has to be a balance between the economy and the environment,” Randall said. “I believe we could reach that balance, if this company sought to do that.”

In a statement to WTOP, Rockwool President Trent Ogilvie said, “We believe there is an exceptionally robust body of scientific research and analysis that underpins the determination that the Rockwool factory in Ranson will have no negative consequences for the health and well-being for those in the community or further away.”

Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors Tony Buffington and Geary Higgins will introduce a motion on Tuesday to research possible actions the county could take in regard to the construction of the Rockwool factory.

Ogilvie and Rockwool state they have met all state and federal licensing requirements to this point.

In her letter, Comstock asked the EPA to look hard at Rockwool’s efforts to build its second facility in the U.S. “I request that the EPA conduct further examination of any and all applications in this matter to determine any areas of noncompliance, and how we can ensure protection of our existing economy and communities,” she wrote.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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