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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: September 15th 2008


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:: Achieving Sustainability

Columbia River Carbonates (CRC), a mining and mineral processing company that produces ultra-fine calcium carbonate products, recently received the most prestigious environmental award in Washington State, the Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention and Sustainable Practices.

Each year, a judging panel (comprised of environmental professionals from state and federal environmental agencies, public citizen groups and industry) meets to screen candidates nominated for the award. The panel selects companies that have gone beyond mere environmental regulatory compliance by adopting principles of sustainability and implementing them ­ not by word service in a mission statement, but by actual day-to-day operations.

CRC produces ultra-fine calcium carbonate products for the paint, plastics, PVC pipe and paper industries in the Pacific Northwest. Although the company's processing plant incorporates ultra-fine grind technology to produce value-added slurry and dry products to rigid specifications, in essence it does much the same thing as an aggregates crushing operation. It takes large rocks and systematically makes them smaller.

CRC operates an open-pit quarry in north central Washington, crushes and screens to 6-inch minus, and ships the rock to its Woodland plant via rail. There, the stone is crushed, ground, screened and classified. Environmental issues involve water treatment, storm water runoff, air quality and dust control ­ much the same as a traditional aggregates operation. CRC's finished products range from fine powders (particle size distributions of 3 to 10 microns) to 2-micron bright slurries used for coating printing papers.

The company's main office and processing plant are located in Woodland, a rural community in southwestern Washington. In 1985, the region had been designated a “timber distressed” area by the state due to economic decline and double-digit unemployment. With the opening of CRC that year, Woodland welcomed its first heavy industrial plant and the accompanying 50 jobs with open arms.

Initially, the plant featured a single process wastewater flow from wet plant wash-down, overflow and/or spillage. Treatment was accomplished via two unlined settling lagoons on the 16-acre site. Within two years, entry into the coated paper market (which demands a very pure and high brightness slurry) required installation of a froth flotation system. Flotation utilizes chemical reagents to remove impurities such as clay, quartz and graphite. Lined settling lagoons were required for receiving flotation process wastewater.

CRC now had two separate wastewater streams treated in four settling lagoons covering more than four acres. At that time, the term “sustainability” was used to refer to the constant turmoil involved in treating and discharging wastewater so that daily production could continue without interruption. The system was at best awkward and difficult to manage, and at worst a labor-intensive operational nightmare that required focused attention 24/7.




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