by justin strawser

COAL TOWNSHIP - Working with carbon, the owners of Shamokin Filler Co. acknowledge, is a dirty process.

But they have applied for permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build a state-of-the-art, cleaner facility on their 45-acre property along Venn Access Road just outside Shamokin.

"We want to be a good neighbor, but we can't do it tomorrow. We're working with 1950s technology," said Don Rosini, co-owner. "In two years, we'll be working with 2011 technology."

On a tour with The News-Item, Rosini and his cousin and co-owner, Bill Rosini, expressed their desire to be the "best carbon company in the country."

"There are a lot of improvements coming to the plant," said Bill Rosini.

The facility - owned by the two Rosinis and Bill's sister, Annette MacLachlan, whose parents founded the business in 1954 - was formed to concentrate technological knowledge on the development of new carbon additive products for industry.

According to its website, using carefully selected grades of anthracite and other carbon raw materials, Shamokin Filler processes and packages granular and powder products tailored to meet requirements for industrial applications in steelmaking, foundry, glass, rubber, plastics, paint, explosives and corrosion protection.

The imported product is often scrap carbon that would otherwise be thrown away, said Bill Rosini.

"We recycle a lot of stuff. Traditionally it was sent to landfills, but we take the material and use it," he said.

Worldwide demand

Don Rosini said worldwide demand for carbon has prompted Shamokin Filler's expansion.

"The U.S. economy is picking up. The Chinese and Indian economies have also been growing at an accelerated rate," he said. "Right now, China and India are importing carbon from us (America). They have increased demand to a point where they don't want to export (it)."

The company supplies customers in America, Mexico, Canada, India, Vietnam, Thailand and Puerto Rico.

"It's a worldwide economy," said Rosini.

More than 50 percent of their product is produced by using local anthracite coal.

"We are pro-carbon. We think the demand for carbon will increase and the anthracite region will benefit," he said.

'Many new jobs'

Don Rosini said the multimillion-dollar expansion project will quadruple production, and includes the addition of a larger dryer in a separate plant to the two dryers already on site. The dryers are used to remove the majority of moisture from the carbon products. The new unit, while similar in nature, is more efficient and more environmentally friendly, as demanded by DEP regulations, said Rosini.

"It's new technology. It's a cleaner operation. DEP mandates we use the best available technology," he said.

The new facility is at least two years away from being completed, but Rosini said permits have been applied for with DEP. While bidding out the work may take place soon, no equipment or construction is allowed until DEP gives the OK.

Rosini said the company expects to hire at least 15 new full-time employees, preferably with experience in an industrial setting.

"These jobs will not max out the plant. We anticipate, over the next five to 10 years, to add many new jobs," said Rosini.

Even amid a lingering recession, he said the company increased productivity last year and changed its schedule to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"America will always do well in the long run. We're gearing up for the possibility to do the same," said Rosini.

Keeping it clean

The inherent dirtiness of the carbon plant is evident on each worker, their faces covered in black grime.

But DEP and local officials are more concerned about the community at-large.

There have been complaints, the owners acknowledge.

"We want to be as clean as anybody can be," said Rosini.

According to recent DEP records, Shamokin Filler has had violations in June 2010 and February.

Last year, industrial waste was discharged without a permit, DEP said.

In February, the violation was also for unpermitted discharge, this time involving the installation of an industrial wastewater impoundment.

"We have notified the company; they are aware," DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni said this week. "We have been working with them to resolve these violations,"

No deadline has been set, he said.

Through its Air Quality Program, DEP conducts an annual full compliance evaluation of the plant. The agency also responds to complaints and conducts surveillance and partial inspections as needed, Spadoni said.

Gene Welsh, president of the Coal Township Board of Commissioners, acknowledged he receives complaints about Shamokin Filler, including black dirt on homes in the area they blame on the plant.

"It's not a good issue. I don't like when people aren't happy," he said.

Don Rosini said the company challenged the township this past winter to prove dirt on homes was from the plant when he said the same black coating wasn't evident on the snow cover.

"It's road dust (on their houses)," said Rosini.

Welsh also discussed a black discharge into nearby creeks, which township Manager Rob Slaby and Code Enforcement Officer Chris Petrovich traced to Shamokin Filler, Welsh said. In both cases, supervisors took samples and sent them to DEP.

Slaby said the township investigated the issue, but there were no local ordinances violated.

"At this point, DEP is dealing with the situation to determine whether there are violations," he said.

Only DEP can fine them, which they have in the past, and only DEP can issue permits, Welsh said.

"The township's hands are tied," he said.

Slaby said letters have been sent to state Sen. John Gordner (R-27) and Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) about the issue.

It's a dilemma for the township, Welsh said.

"We want them (the residents) to be happy, but we don't want to chase business away. We need to find a happy medium and make the environment safe," he said.

As for Shamokin Filler's plans, he added, "If they're going to build a new plant, and it's going to help the situation, I'm all for it."