Tracy DanZey.jpg

Tracy Danzey

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Most would have considered it a horrible but inexplicable misfortune. Tracy Danzey knew right away that it wasn’t.
Physically active all her life, Danzey was jogging in Frederick, Md., with her husband one Saturday in 2005. She was 25 years old, and the right side of her pelvis suddenly shattered.
Her condition was so serious and medically confounding that she was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
“As a nurse, I looked down and knew my hip was broken,” Danzey recalled. “And I knew that doesn’t happen to a 25 year old. I went through all the diagnosis and stuff, but I knew what they were going to tell me because I grew up in the Middle Ohio Valley.”
Danzey grew up in Parkersburg, nicknamed across West Virginia and the country as “Chemical Valley” for the industries there that have damaged the region’s environment and impacted the health of its residents. Before moving to Shepherdstown to study nursing at Shepherd University, she had witnessed a community roll call of cancers, thyroid malfunctions and other uncommon diseases among her neighbors.
The cause of Danzey’s pelvic collapse was bone cancer — specifically, an unusual form of a rare cancer called osteosarcoma.
“I just thought. ‘Oh man,’ you know as a nurse, I thought, ‘I’m probably going to die.’ It has a very low survival rate, osteosarcoma,” she recalled. “And I thought, ‘If my hip is this bad, it’s probably other places,’ but it wasn’t.”
Danzey learned that the cancer had not spread inside her body. Nevertheless, doctors amputated her right hip and leg, not attempting to salvage what Danzey had feared might be tissues that harbored more cancer. And she underwent months of intensive chemotherapy treatments.
“I just wanted it out of my body as quickly as possible,” she said.
Now a mother of an 8-year-old son with her husband Mark, Danzey’s experience has led her onto the frontlines of resistance against the Rockwool mineral wool insulation facility being built near Kearneysville.
Her body is a testament, she says, to the human destruction irresponsible industry can cause and an alarm to what some fear could happen to an industrialized Jefferson County.
“My case is an example of how lax the environmental laws really are in West Virginia.” she said. “I mean, this was all done under the watch of the [West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection].”
Two weeks ago, Danzey, now the volunteer president of Resist Rockwool, a local group battling the construction of the factory, completed an arduous 11-day, 64-mile walk across Denmark. Part protest and part education campaign, she said, her walk from the cities of Kalundborg to Copenhagen was organized to bring awareness to the citizens of Denmark about the concerns and opposition that remains in Jefferson County over Rockwool’s factory.
One step at a time on her one leg and metal crutches, Danzey completed her walk on Nov. 9, visiting with Danish citizens, students, environmentalists and news media along the way.
“It’s a walking tour, but it’s also a talking tour,” she said in an interview before leaving for her journey.
“Our message is that we want to talk about how Rockwool is behaving in our country,” she said, “Because they are a trusted company and they have a reputation there and we want to talk to the Danes about that.”
“They’re on the green train and this isn’t green production,” she said.

Fighting a Factory

Danzey said that Danish citizens she has talked with are surprised to hear that Rockwool has built its factories so close to an elementary school. The Ranson factory is under construction about a third of a mile from North Jefferson Elementary, and the factory’s main access off Charles Town Road near the school will be used daily by 60 to 100 trucks supplying the factory.
The 460,000-square-foot factory, estimated to cost about $150 million and create about 150 new jobs, is due to open next fall.
Danzey maintains that the company will operate its Ranson factory with lower environmental-impact standards and more pollution emissions than the company’s factories in Denmark, a claim Rockwool representatives have repeatedly denied.
“For me, it’s important for me to make it clear that this company has chosen vulnerable areas in the U.S. and in North America on purpose,” she said. “They’ve chosen areas where the regulations are extremely lax. I don’t think that was by accident. West Virginia is an opportunity to get away with as much as you possibly can.”
The state Department of Environmental Protection re-affirmed that the emissions the Ranson factory will be allowed to release will be safe for all humans and animals, and that the facility will be required to adopt the most current pollution-control technologies available.
Rockwool operates 45 factories in 20 countries, including its newest factory operating in Byhalia, Miss., an exurb community of Memphis, Tenn. The company has operated factories in the Danish cities of Øster Doense and Vamdrup since the 1960s and 1970s. The environmental controls in those factories, as with the other factories that Rockwool operates, have been periodically upgraded as new technology and systems have been introduced over time, company representatives say. They insist the environmental regulations governing the Ranson factory and two similar factories the company operates in Denmark are essentially the same.
The manufacturing operations and emissions controls at the three facilities are also the same, says Rockwool spokesman Michael Zarin.
All three factories will produce mineral wool insulation with the same chemical components, emissions and manufacturing processes, Zarin said. All three Rockwool factories will use the same “core technology” to melt and form the raw basalt material into a final insulation product using coal and natural gas energy sources, Zarin wrote in emails form Denmark.
Coal is used at all three plants as the fuel for a melting furnace, and natural gas is used to cure the cooling insulation product and for other production processes, Zarin explained.
“The environmental regulations are just as strict in Denmark as they are in West Virginia,” he said. “Were that not the case, we would not be able to operate the factory in Øster Doense, which uses the same core technology as we’re deploying in Ranson.”
Danzey and other Rockwool opponents have insisted that the company forgo a coal-fired furnace for an all-electric “arc” furnace at the Ranson factory, a change Zarin said would increase the factory’s carbon emissions by drawing more electricity from a utility grid supported by coal-fired generators.
“As the local electricity supply is fossil fuel-dominated, using electric melting would result in a 160 percent increase in carbon emissions compared to the advanced coal and natural gas-powered manufacturing process being deployed in Ranson,” Zarin wrote.
He said the large-scale use of electric melters remains under development. It is being tested at a factory in Norway, where the electricity grid is dominated by renewable energy. Rockwool’s factory in Vamdrup is experimenting with a “smaller-scale” electric melting furnace.
“It’s part of our broad efforts to further develop this technology,” Zarin wrote.
The amount of natural gas available to the Ranson factory is currently limited and less than Rockwool would like to use. Zarin said if the factory could access more natural gas to fuel the facility’s furnace the change from coal to natural gas would reduce the facility’s overall emissions.
Danzey and other Rockwool factory opponents cite several other concerns that Rockwool officials rebut as inaccurate, misleading or highly exaggerated.
For example, opponents have raised concerns about how the company will dispose of coal ash left over from the furnace operations, but Rockwool representatives have said the coal ash will be recycled as material used in its insulation product.
“There won’t be any coal ash remnants, as the ash is recycled into the production process,” Zarin said.
Opponents also claim the factory will use outdated “bag house” systems to filter particle emissions from its insulation production line. Rockwool representatives say the Wet Electro-Static Precipitator filtering system the factory will use is a state-of-the-art system that will be “highly efficient” in capturing small particle matter and chemical emissions.
Zarin said Danzey was invited to tour the company’s factory in Øster Doense and to meet company representatives at its headquarters in Hedehusene, near Copenhagen, which her walk took her past. She declined the invitations.
Rockwool’s air permit will allow the Ranson factory to safely release tons of particulate matter into the air each year, but the company’s officials insist those emissions will be well below the levels the facility will be safely allowed to emit under the DEP’s air permit.
Zarin said the factory’s various manufacturing systems and processes are calibrated and optimized in relation to each other. He said it’s misleading and too easy for critics to call for isolated improvements to a single system while disregarding how those changes would disrupt or create unwanted negative consequences as a whole from the factory’s other systems.
“It will always be the case that the best environmental controls are balancing acts among substances to be controlled, production processes, types of waste, energy used and other factors,” he wrote. “We’re certain one could always find a specific abatement technology for a specific substance that is especially effective, seen in isolation. But every choice has its consequences.”
Danzey said that it’s the responsibility for industries to find a way to safely operate based on standards their surrounding communities expect.
“It’s not our job in Jefferson County to find you the energy that you need and make it green,” she said, referring to the electric furnaces. “It’s your job as a company if that’s the way you want to be seen, then that’s what you need to do. In 10 years Rockwool is not going to want to be burning 90 tons of coal a day. So why would we even start there? It doesn’t make any sense.”
West Virginia officials and Rockwool representatives have sought for 16 months to reassure residents that the factory is safe, but opponents have continued to voice concerns — such as stormwater and factory waste retention ponds at the Ranson site possibly contaminating underground and above-ground water resources.
Danzey said county residents and public officials were initially given the impression the Ranson factory would operate safely and cleanly and that no explanation was offered about emissions, the chemical and manufacturing processes that would be involved, or the need for 213-foot smokestacks.
“They put their guards down and then it was something totally different,” she said. “Jefferson County is going to have a lot of problems in the future and now everyone is going to be suspicious of everything that comes to Jefferson County. I mean, I could be opening a sock store and people are going to be freaking out about whether I’m going to have emissions coming out of the back of my sock store, you know?”
Zarin objected to the characterization of the company behaving underhandedly.
“Our understanding is that there were more than 40 public body reviews of the project between summer 2017 when it was first announced and the summer 2018 groundbreaking,” he said. “During that year, there were more than 30 news stories about it in the local media. And there were around 530 people on the WVDEP email list informing about the air permit application and public comment period.”
Danzey said Jefferson County’s economy should remain one based on agriculture, horse racing and tourism — not heavy industry.
However, she admits the controversy about the Ranson factory is not about Rockwool but about the track record of heavy industry in West Virginia. It’s more about what industries might follow Rockwool, she said.
 

Haunting Industrial Legacy

When Danzey was 20 and a nursing student at Shepherd University, her thyroid stopped functioning — a known side effect from an industrial chemical that seeped into the Ohio River and Parkersburg’s local water supplies, she said.
Danzey said she grew up swimming in the Ohio River when it was contaminated and in community pools filled with city water from the river.
She recommends that people look up and watch “The Devil We Know,” a documentary released last year about a major chemical contamination in the Parkersburg area. She said the company involved in the chemical contamination — which she doesn’t want to name — knew about how the chemical C-8, known as perfluorooctanoic acid and a byproduct once used in the manufacture of Teflon and the products, leaked into local water wells and the Ohio River from stormwater retention ponds.
Danzey said the company involved knew about the problem for years before it was publicly exposed. “Livestock was dying and they still didn’t do anything,” she said. “They didn’t tell anyone. They did nothing.”
At one point before the contamination was discovered, she said, the company prevented pregnant women from working on its Teflon production line, which was shut down in 2009.
Time and again, that’s how industry has operated, Danzey said. They promise good jobs and better communities up front until their operations go wrong later on. Payoffs for legal liabilities that emerge are just practical considerations built into their business models, she said.
“They weigh which is more economically feasible. And it’s never about, ‘What can we do to protect the public?’” she said. “They never take on a different philosophy of how do we create a symbiotic relationship here where we’re not making people sick but we can still produce our products. It’s never that. It’s always which is the cheaper option.”
In 2017, DuPont and its subsidiary Chemours Co. paid $671 million to settled a class-action lawsuit involving about 3,550 personal injury and death claims arising from cancers and other alleged health effects from the C-8 leak. After the settlement was announced, according to news reports then, the shares of DuPont’s stock rose by 1 percent, as the payout was lower than investors had anticipated.
DuPont and Chemours denied any wrongdoing.
The legal settlement also occurred just before DuPont moved to complete a $130 billion merger for its stockholders with Dow Chemical Co.
 

Fighting for Community

Danzey said she’s never considered pursuing legal action against the company she doesn’t name when her thyroid failed or her cancer showed itself the day she went running. She said she never wanted to tie up her life in the negativity of a drawn-out legal fight with a multinational corporation.
“It takes forever … and, I mean, I thought I didn’t think I was going to live,” she said looking back at her cancer struggle. “So I didn’t want to be doing that. I moved on.”
Danzey said she understands the dilemma industrial economies and a difficult bargain that individuals and communities make to financially support their families and back companies that provide local jobs. She said everyone in Parkersburg still has a family member or relative who depend on a job or a pension from a big manufacturer in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
“Their whole lifestyle depends on the existence of this company in a good state,” she said.
Danzey said she understands the argument of creating new jobs to support families in Jefferson County, the state’s last holdout from coal extraction and heavy industries. She sees the economic need for industrial manufacturing, but she also doesn’t want to trade away a community’s health for jobs. She doesn’t want to see Jefferson County build an economy based on industries that don’t have a strong future.
West Virginia’s economic future should not be built on industries based on coal, Danzey said. Businesses, communities and economies are already aggressively looking for alternatives to coal and its environmental side effects, she said.
“Coal is kind of like killing us because we keep holding on to it,” she added. “There’s other ways.”
Danzey had moved away from Shepherdstown with her family, but they returned last summer after missing West Virginia. She missed the hiking and river recreation that Florida didn’t have. But she also came back to help her friends and community fight the Rockwool factory, she said.
She said she wanted to defend the people and the community that helped her and her husband through her cancer crisis. Her husband had to quit his job to care for her then. So many friends, neighbors and former colleagues at Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg turned out to sustain her family financially and other ways, she said. She still doesn’t know everyone who helped them, because it was a time when deposits would anonymously appear into their bank account.
“For me, that was such an overwhelming experience to just have people doing that kind of thing because they wanted to not because they felt an obligation,” she said. “The Eastern Panhandle has always taken really good care of me when I have needed it really badly, and I’m not the type to ask, so that made it even a bigger gift.”
Danzey said she had tried to return to nursing or another career but she doesn’t have the consistent energy or stamina that’s required. So in addition to raising her son, who has asthma, she now devotes most of the time she can to help oppose the Rockwool factory.
“People come here for the beauty. People come here for the education. People come here for the view,” she said. “I don’t know why someone would come if that’s gone.”

Tags

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.