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A Stanly County plant that uses hazardous waste as fuel will switch to coal, company officials said Wednesday, in an effort to calm the fears of neighbors.

``We are taking this move to end controversy in our community and restore the harmonious relations with all of our neighbors which we have enjoyed for 37 years,' said John Roberts, president of Carolina Solite and its parent company, Solite Corp.Earlier Wednesday, nine county residents delivered an oversized letter to Gov. Jim Martin's office asking that the company be ordered to stop using hazardous waste as fuel until it gets all the permits required for a hazardous waste incinerator.

``Confidence in the state's ability to regulate hazardous waste facilities has bottomed out,' Joann Almond, president of Stanly Citizens Opposed to Toxic Chemical Hazards, said in the 4-by-2-foot letter.

From 1953 until 1983, Carolina Solite used coal-fired kilns to produce lightweight aggregate, a material used in construction. In 1983, it began using hazardous waste to fire the kilns, a practice that has drawn opposition from county residents and others in the last year.

The company burns about 62 million pounds of hazardous waste each year.

Roberts said the company is switching to coal even though no federal or state agency has found that Carolina Solite's operations endanger the environment or public health.

Roberts left open the possibility that the plant might again use hazardous waste for fuel.

``The decision on that will be determined by many factors that have a bearing on it,' he said.

Plant opponents who had called for an end to hazardous waste burning could not immediately be reached for comment on the company's decision.

The Aquadale plant had applied for a permit to double its burning of hazardous waste, but the protesters said the company is not increasing the amount of aggregate it produces.

The company has refused to make public the amount of aggregate it produces each year, saying such public release involves ``trade secrets' that would give competitors an unfair advantage in pricing and marketing.

At a news conference outside the Capitol, Almond and other protesters said they are worried about the state's regulation of Solite in the wake of reports that an incinerator in Caldwell County was allowed to continue its operations despite indications that public health was being affected.

``The state's past record is poor at best, and we believe all roads point to another Caldwell repeating in Stanly County,' Almond said in her letter to Martin, who is on vacation. ``Our community will not allow this to happen.'

Don Follmer of the Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, who was present at the news conference, said state officials have conducted special monitoring and inspections not required by state regulations to answer public concerns about Solite.

A statement from the Division of Environmental Management passed out at the news conference said monitoring of off-site pollution has shown no violation of state regulations and tests of drinking water wells in the area have shown no contamination.

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