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From Large Coal Chunks, Girard Breaker Cuts Anthracite Down to Size

November 26, 2006

By Christopher Hinz, Reading Eagle, Pa.

Nov. 26–It’s not the prettiest sight on the horizon — a boxy yellow structure rising 90-plus feet from a black and pitted landscape in the Schuylkill County mountains. But the anthracite processed by Girard Breaker makes possible power generation and steel making, and supports industries manufacturing everything from sewage-treatment plant filters and charcoal briquettes to boilers and stoves. “We’re producing about 900 to 1,000 clean tons a shift,” said Leonard Haspe, superintendent of the Butler Township breaker, or separation plant, near Girardville. Owned by Pottsville-based Reading Anthracite Co., the 11-acre facility ingests raw coal from the company’s nine regional strip mines scattered throughout the northeastern Pennsylvania coal region — the largest anthracite reserves in the country. The raw coal contains rocks and dirt, and some lumps are the size of a desk. A conveyor moves the material to the top of the breaker at which point gravity takes over. Crushers, magnetite-saturated water and shuddering platforms called vibrators erupt in a pounding cacophony as the raw coal drops through the breaker. Rock, dirt and other impurities are removed and the coal is cleaned and sorted into marketable sizes for truck pickup. Some loads are transferred to an adjacent rail yard for longer journeys. The noise level in the breaker is so high that plant workers are prohibited from being inside for more than about half of an eight-hour shift. However, the 1997-built plant is largely automated and the prohibition generally not an issue. “It’s all modern, state-of-the-art technology,” Haspe said. The breaker operates five days a week with a nine-person crew, one of whom monitors computers and surveillance cameras placed at key areas. The coal is shipped by rail, truck and barge to 44 states and eight countries, including Canada, Germany, Hungary, Mexico and Venezuela.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Reading Eagle, Pa.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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