EPA sets final limit on cement plant mercury pollution

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Clickable map points show Great Lakes cement plants’ 2009 mercury emissions.

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View Great Lakes states cement plant mercury emissions, 2009 in a larger map

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got tough on the nation’s cement plants this week, issuing new pollution standards that will force the industry to cut air emissions of soot and harmful chemicals like mercury.

The Great Lakes states’ 18 cement plants reported to the EPA a total 1167 pounds of mercury air emissions in 2009. Cement plants burn coal to cook limestone and other ingredients in big kilns. Coal and limestone both contain mercury that is vaporized and released in the kiln’s emissions.

Airborne mercury falls into lakes and contaminates fish. Eating too much mercury-laced fish can cause brain and kidney damage, especially in young children.

The rule is the final – and slightly less stringent – version of standards the EPA proposed in May 2009.

Read more about the details of the new rule on the New York Times’ Green blog and USA Today. Those eager to wade through the muck of the 461-page rule can find it here.

The EPA claims the rule will bring a bevy of reductions in unnecessary deaths and illnesses like chronic bronchitis, and those reductions will yield economic benefits that outweigh the cement industry’s costs of meeting the new standards:

“EPA estimates that the rules will yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in health and environmental benefits, with costs estimated at $926 million to $950 million annually in 2013. “

But an American cement industry group says the rule could actually cause more health problems worldwide. Adopting control technologies could drive up the cost of American-made cement and push demand and production abroad to nations with less-stringent environmental regulations, according to Brain McCarthy, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association.

“More cement will need to be imported to make up for shrinking domestic supply,” McCarthy said in a release. “We fear this could constrain the U.S. government’s efforts to stimulate the economy, create jobs and rehabilitate the nation’s infrastructure. Additionally, imports of cement, mostly likely from developing nations, will cause global increases of greenhouse gas, mercury and other pollutant emissions.”

The New York Times’ Green blogger Felicity Barringer frames the rule in terms of an Obama administration more eager to impose environmental regulations than its predecessors:

“While Obama-era regulations did not reach down to blowout preventers at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, they have reached cement kilns in a way that neither the Clinton nor the George W. Bush administrations had seemed willing or able to manage.”

But the new rule isn’t simply the result of a regime change. Environmental law firm Earthjustice sued the agency four times in an effort to force a cap on cement plant mercury emissions.

Earthjustice called the new standards “strong” in this release. The group also pointed to the Lafarge cement plant in northeastern Michigan as a particular problem:

The Alpena cement plant is of particular concern because it sits on the banks of Lake Huron and in close proximity to residential areas of Alpena.

“We’ve been living with the pollution from the Lafarge Cement plant in Alpena for decades,” said Bill Freese, director of the Huron Environmental Activist League, in a release issued by Earthjustice. “Cleaning up toxic air pollution from this cement plant and dozens more just like it across the country will mean cleaner air, fewer hospital visits, and better living for all.”

The Alpena plant was the biggest mercury polluter among Great Lakes states cement plants until 2009 when it was overtaken by the Buzzi Unicem USA, Inc. plant in Greencastle, Ind., according to EPA records.

The Greencastle plant reported 280 pounds of mercury emissions to the EPA in 2009. Though it was the worst mercury polluting cement plant, it was the 26th-worst mercury polluter over all. All but one of the 25 facilities that emitted more mercury were power plants.

2009 Great Lakes cement plant mercury emissions as reported to the EPA’s toxic release inventory:

Facility Name State City Pounds of mercury emitted
BUZZI UNICEM USA – GREENCASTLE PLANT IN GREENCASTLE 280
LAFARGE MIDWEST INC MI ALPENA 270
ESSROC CEMENT CORP PA NAZARETH 129.7
LEHIGH CEMENT CO IN MITCHELL 128.41
KEYSTONE CEMENT CO PA BATH 83
LEHIGH CEMENT CO – EVANSVILLE PA FLEETWOOD 65
LAFARGE MIDWEST INC JOPPA PLANT IL GRAND CHAIN 39
ST MARYS CEMENT INC (US) MI CHARLEVOIX 34.63
LAFARGE NA WHITEHALL PLANT PA WHITEHALL 28
ESSROC CEMENT CORP PA BESSEMER 23
ESSROC CEMENT CORP IN SPEED 22.9
LAFARGE NA (INCLUDING SYSTECH ENV CORP) OH PAULDING 15
ARMSTRONG CEMENT & SUPPLY CORP PA CABOT 13.1567
HOLCIM (US) INC – DUNDEE PLAN T MI DUNDEE 12.45
CEMEX INC FAIRBORN CEMENT PLANT OH XENIA 9.083
LEHIGH NORTHEAST CEMENT CO NY GLENS FALLS 8.8
BUZZI UNICEM STOCKERTOWN PLANT PA STOCKERTOWN 5.78
LEHIGH NORTHEAST CEMENT CO NY CATSKILL 0.003

9 thoughts on “EPA sets final limit on cement plant mercury pollution

  1. Pingback: Cement Plant Air Pollution Regulations | Thorn Environmental Law

  2. So, in order to keep the jobs at polluting industries that sicken and kill nearby inhabitants and pollute the land and water, we must accept those conditions. There has to be a better way than to slowly, but, inexorably increase the cumulative assault on our health and lives.

    Why not legislate that imports have to be manufactured under the same clean environmental requirements as is required here. That would at least mitigate that economic advantage of imports. In reality, multinational corporations with their birthplace here in the USA should be heavily taxed if they ship jobs overseas for any reason and attempt to sell their product back here. In most instances, slave labor wages in combination with other costs is the real driving force to ship jobs overseas.

  3. I would first like to say… the cement that we bring from out of the country is the same as what we make here, although the plants overseas do not have to follow the same environmental regulations, the end product is the same, Second I do air pollution control for a living and Megan is right it is not about the environment it is about the almighty dollar…That dollar is what keeps me working, none the less the cost at which these plants are subjected to to do the emissions controls to operate within our country will be the same thing that the government did to the automakers…. it will cost them too much to operate effectively and the corporations will move their operations out of the country so they can afford to continue making the products we use everyday…. some kind of situation we put ourselves into… and we wonder why there are no jobs here….

  4. Carbon based life forms trying to make a go in a consumer driven global economy that has no regard for carbon based life forms. Really sad. And really stupid.

  5. Dave, Look at the whole picture. The EPA never gives you the entire situation… they conveniently leave out key truths. It’s all a numbers game. The EPA is actually out to make money. My husband has been in the industry for over ten years at the two top environmentally controlled cement plant in North America and possibly the world. The local inspectors were candid about the situation, no one at the EPA cares about the environment, it’s all about money. I won’t argue the trucks exceeding the speed limit… even the UPS truck driver who delivers in your neighborhood will consistently exceed the speed limit. Don’t single out just the cement truckers, just call your state troopers. But I DO know that any shipping supervisor who wants to keep his job (and house) won’t sign the paperwork if he knows the load is over the limit…he could be found liable if that truck is the cause of an accident or God forbid, any deaths as a result of the accident. And the Mitchell plant should be in the middle of a major upgrade/rebuild that would make at least most people happy.

  6. A dirty,dusty eyesore with overloaded trucks travelling well over the speed limit on country roads with little or no regard to citizens who live nearbye. Mercury particle pollution 128 times higher than their safer plants in communities where the residents are better educated and better off economically. Piss on our feet and tell us its rain, is the companies attitude.Lehigh could never get away with this if the citizens of Mitchell,In. were in a more enlightened area , and with more economic opportunities.

  7. Why don’t we require imported materials to meet our own regulations? The people that bought houses constructed with wallboard made in China would be a lot happier now, instead of sick. Of course there is also the story of the MI based auto parts manufacturer that doesn’t like Ohio’s environmental regs where their plant is, so they are shutting down and moving to Indiana. It is called GREED that runs our economy.

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