EPA Looks to Regulate Harmful Mercury Emissions from Cement Kilns

Over the weekend, one of our friends on Twitter reached out to Kendall Cooke and asked about our ability to cover the topic of mercury, our environmentment and the emissions created by cement kilns.

After reading up on the topic more, we decided to post some interesting facts, stories and claims as we came across them.

First was an article written by Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian on Wednesday August 19, 2009. In the article Preusch described the recent efforts by the EPA and other Federal Goverment agencies in the possibility of creating new rules for controlling the emissions of cement kilns.

Preusch writes…

The federal government is considering new rules to limit mercury emissions from cement kilns, which makes two new studies released this week timely.

The first study, from the federal government, shows how pervasive mercury is in our environment. And a study from chemists at Duke University explains how that mercury becomes toxic to us.

Mercury particles released into the air from cement kilns or coal-fired power plants can settle on lakes and rivers where they accumulate in fish and other wildlife. And since we humans are at the top of the food chain, some of that mercury eventually ends up in our bodies.

That’s dangerous because mercury is a toxin that can lead to neurological diseases and other disorders, especially for infants.

“The exposure rate of mercury in the U.S. is quite high,” said Heileen Hsu-Kim, Duke assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior member of the research team behind a new study showing how mercury becomes toxic. “A recent epidemiological survey found that up 8 percent of women had mercury levels higher than national guidelines. Since humans are on top of the food chain, any mercury in our food accumulates in our body.”

A survey by federal scientists, the results of which were released today, found mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams around the nation, and a quarter of those fish had mercury levels higher than those considered safe for human consumption.

“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”

The Duke study, led by graduate student Amrika Deonarine, found that organic material in soil and water converts the mercury in the air into the toxic form, methylmercury, that can build up in living tissue.

“When the organic material combines with the mercury, it prevents the particle from accumulating with other mercury particles and growing larger,” said Deonarine, who presented the results of her analysis at the summer annual scientific sessions of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.

Since the mercury particles stay so small, they can be readily absorbed by living microbes, whose surfaces would repel larger blocks of mercury.

The next reference materials we found that we felt should be shared were published by the folks at The Daily Green, who profiled The 27 Worst Cement Kilns for Mercury Pollution:

After years of litigation, it appears that environmental groups and states have won a victory against the Environmental Protection Agency, which had refused for 10 years to set mercury emissions limits on cement kilns, one of the largest sources of pollution in the country. The news came to us from Earthjustice, the group that has, in collaboration with national and local environmental groups, led the legal fight to see this mercury pollution reined in.

The EPA had cracked down on mercury from power plants in recent years, though that regulation was recently tossed by the courts. But the EPA had refused, despite four court decisions stating that the Clean Air Act required mercury regulation from major industrial sources like cement manufacturing plants, to set first-ever limits.

The cement industry is heavily consolidated and controlled by international companies that are, in many cases, based outside the United States. While the U.S. economy demands cement, the pollution is dumped domestically while the profits are exported. Mercury fallout from burning coal and processing limestone contaminates lakes, rivers and reservoirs, where elemental mercury is transformed into toxic methymercury. That neurotoxin enters the food chain and can damage the brains of fetuses and young children who eat, or whose mothers eat, contaminated fish.

Here’s a list of the 27 cement kilns that emitted more than 100 pounds of mercury in 2006. (View all 100 in the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

That article, which is incredibly detailed and is certainly considered a must read for those interested, then went on to list the “Biggest Cement Kiln Mercury Polluters” using 2006 statistics. The list includes…

1. 2,582 Pounds of Mercury — Ash Grove Cement Co., Durkee, Baker County, Ore.
2. 654 Pounds of Mercury — California Portland Cement Co., Colton, San Bernardino County, Calif.
3. 586 Pounds of Mercury — Lehigh Southwest Cement Co., Tehachapi, Kern County, Calif.
4. 522 Pounds of Mercury — Ash Grove Cement Co., Chanute, Neosho, Kan.
5. 496 Pounds of Mercury — Hanson Permanente Cement, Cupertino, Santa Clara County, Calif.
6. 472 Pounds of Mercury — Ash Grove Cement Co., Foreman, Little River County, Ark.
7. 417 Pounds of Mercury — LaFarge Midwest Inc., Alpena, Alpena County, Mich.
8. 416 Pounds of Mercury — LaFarge Building Materials Inc., Ravena, Albany County, N.Y.
9. 271 Pounds of Mercury — Cemex California Cement LLC, Victorville, San Bernardino County, Calif.
10. 252 Pounds of Mercury — River Cement Co., Festus, Jefferson County, Mo.
11. 241 Pounds of Mercury — Cemex Cement of Texas LP, New Braunfels, Comal County, Texas
12. 225 Pounds of Mercury — Cemex de Puerto Rico Inc., Ponce, Ponce County, Puerto Rico
13. 208 Pounds of Mercury — National Cement Co. of Alabama, Ragland, St. Clair County, Ala.
14. 190 Pounds of Mercury — Lehigh Cement Co., Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
15. 176 Pounds of Mercury — Essroc Cement Corp., Speed, Clark County, Ind.
16. 172 Pounds of Mercury — RMC Pacific Materials, Davenport, Santa Cruz County, Calif.
17. 163 Pounds of Mercury — Essroc Cement Corp., Nazareth, Northampton County, Penn.
18. 161 Pounds of Mercury — Mitsubishi Cement Corp., Lucerne Valley, San Bernardino County, Calif.
19. 160 Pounds of Mercury — Buzzi Unicem USA, Cape Girardeau, Cape Girardeau County, Mo.
20. 159 Pounds of Mercury — Lehigh Cement Co., Mitchel, Lawrence County, Ind.
21. 153 Pounds of Mercury — Ash Grove Cement, Leamington, Leamington County, Utah
22. 151 Pounds of Mercury — Essroc Cement Corp., Bessemer, Lawrence County, Penn.
23. 149 Pounds of Mercury — Capitol Cement Corp., Martinsburg, Berkeley, W.Va.
24. 130 Pounds of Mercury — Buzzi Unicem USA, Greencastle, Putnam County, Ind.
25. 120 Pounds of Mercury — Holcim (US), Dundee, Monroe County, Mich.
26. 106 Pounds of Mercury — Holcim U.S. Inc., Clarksville, Pike County, Mo.
27. 105 Pounds of Mercury — Keystone Cement Co., Bath, Northampton, Penn.

Now, the relevant news now is that the EPA is allowing for public commentary to be provided through September 4, 2009 on this matter. In March of 2006, under the pressures of environmental and public health groups, the EPA finally responded to demands and began listening to recommendations.

EarthJustice has more in their article, “EPA Finally Sets Plans for Mercury Limits on Cement Kilns”:

Washington, D.C. — Under intense pressure from states and local and national environmental and public health groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in a recent court document plans to regulate mercury pollution from over 100 cement kilns across the country by September 2009. The announcement marks a dramatic shift in EPA policy which, until now, had been to resist requiring mercury controls for cement kilns.

“After nearly a decade of litigation and multiple court orders directing EPA to regulate mercury from cement kilns, it seems the agency is finally paying attention,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew.

Three times in the last ten years, federal courts have ordered EPA to set emission standards to control cement kilns’ mercury emissions. Until now, EPA has ignored these orders or sought to evade them. EPA finally indicated that it would set mercury emission standards in papers filed on February 20, 2008, in a fourth case brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, Downwinders at Risk (TX), Friends of Hudson (NY), Montanans Against Toxic Burning, Desert Citizens Against Pollution (CA), and the Huron Environmental Activist League (MI). The States of New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania also filed suit.

“Cement kilns are among the nation’s worst polluters, and their free ride on mercury pollution needs to end at long last,” said Jane Williams, executive director of Desert Citizens Against Pollution.

How You Can Get Involved
If you’d like to help stop the emissions of mercury into the air when it’s produced at cement kiln factories, please let the EPA know more about your concerns. Don’t stop there, either… Be sure to reach out to local and state government officials and public health boards, particularly if you’re in a state with one or more of these cement kiln factories.

Categorized | Other, Pollution & Toxins
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