Liz McCormick Published

Investigation: Jefferson County Stone Wool Company Did Not Meet International Guidelines For Planning, Outreach

Rockwool October 2020.jpg

The Rockwool facility in Ranson, Jefferson County, which manufactures stone-wool insulation, has been a significant source of contention in the Eastern Panhandle since the summer of 2018.

As the facility is about to begin operations at the end of June, concerns still exist about its impact on air quality and on the region’s karst topography, which is porous and prone to sinkholes.

After a yearlong investigation conducted by NCP Denmark, which is the contact point for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD), investigators say the insulation company did not meet two of the OECD Guidelines for responsible business conduct while setting up shop in the Eastern Panhandle.

Those two areas include risk-based due diligence and community engagement.

Researchers found that Rockwool did not do enough to understand how its facility might affect the surrounding area—especially the people living there. Instead, investigators said the company focused too heavily on simply following the letter of local laws.

“The submitted documentation indicates that the initial phases of the project were based on a transactional due diligence approach and thereby too narrowly focused on risks to the company itself rather than identifying potential adverse impacts on people, the environment, and society in accordance with the OECD Guidelines,” NCP Denmark wrote in its final statement.

Additionally, the report found that Rockwool did not initially seek enough community input regarding the project.

“NCP Denmark finds that Rockwool did not sufficiently observe the OECD Guidelines’ expectations to provide meaningful opportunities for the relevant stakeholders to express their views during the planning and decision-making process of the manufacturing facility project,” the report concluded.

The investigation highlights, however, that Rockwool made respectable efforts to rectify the community outreach shortfallings after the fact, and recognized that the company complied with state and federal environmental guidelines, conducting “numerous and extensive assessments of environmental and health risks.”

Michael Zarin, vice president of Group Communications at Rockwool, acknowledged community risk assessment should have started earlier in the planning process. But he said that Rockwool followed all U.S. regulatory practices and requirements for due diligence.

“It’s not a question of whether we did the environmental and health due diligence, but it’s a question of timing,” Zarin said. “And that’s, of course, something that we’ll take into consideration and we’ll look more closely into those guidelines and other guidelines that are relevant, and of course try to come up with the best possible approach to that in the future.”

Zarin said the Rockwool facility will continue to be transparent and open with the community.

But some local residents are still unsure. Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, is a member of the group West Virginians for Sustainable Development. His group filed the complaint one year ago with the investigating agency NCP Denmark.

“Not only does this finding indict Rockwool, it indicts state government, county government and Ranson city government, at every level of government, that people were not well-served, because there was not sufficient transparency,” Doyle said.

He and other members of the West Virginians for Sustainable Development are hopeful Rockwool will take the findings in the investigation seriously and make changes.

While the investigation bears no legal weight or regulatory consequences for Rockwool, NCP Denmark intends to follow-up with the company in one year to see if it has implemented recommendations. Those include ongoing community engagement in operation changes, environmental impacts, and constructive participation and good faith from “both parties.”

Rockwool manufactures its product by melting down basalt rock and recycled slag to create heat and water-resistant stone wool insulation. Fibers are spun to create a wool-like material used to insulate buildings, industrial applications and acoustic ceilings.

The Ranson facility will run entirely on natural gas and begin shipping insulation to customers at the end of the month.