The unregulated pollution from cement kilns is emitted in or nearby many major U.S. urban areas and also within a few miles of such major bodies of water as the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Huron and the San Francisco Bay. Mercury pollution already has impaired rivers, lakes, and streams throughout the United States, making certain fish unsafe to eat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 percent of women of childbearing age in America already have mercury in their bodies at levels high enough to put their babies at risk of birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and developmental problems.
Entitled "Cementing a Toxic Legacy? How EPA Has Failed to Control Mercury Pollution From Cement Kilns," the Earthjustice/EIP report outlines specific recommendations for EPA and state agency action based on the following key conclusions:
"EPA's new data confirm that cement plants are among the worst mercury polluters in this country," said James Pew, Earthjustice staff attorney. "EPA has refused to acknowledge this problem for more than a decade, and the mercury contamination in our food and waters has grown worse every year as a result. It is high time for EPA to do its job and make this industry clean up its toxic emissions."
"Action by the EPA is long overdue and America's health and public waters have suffered needlessly due to this foot dragging," said Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer. "Ten years after it was required to set standards for cement kilns, EPA finally got around to requesting basic information related to mercury emissions from nine of the major cement kiln companies operating in the U.S. EPA claims that it will use this information to finally propose mercury standards for cement kilns sometime in the summer or fall of 2008, but confidence in that timeline is low given all of the agency's stalling to date. Based on our new review of available data, it is now long past time for EPA to regulate an industry that releases nearly twice as much mercury into the air as the agency previously reported."
Marti Sinclair, chairperson, Sierra Club National Air Committee (Cincinnati, OH), said, "EPA's mercury strategy has allowed polluters to contaminate our fisheries with mercury, then warn people off eating fish. Folks who ignore the warning or just don't know are imperiled. Those who avoid fish altogether are eating unhealthy substitutes instead. For Americans, eating fish has become damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't. Only the polluters get let off the hook."
In 2007, EPA collected data from nine companies and released data for 51 non-hazardous waste burning kilns currently operating in the United States. The 2007 EPA collection requests were sent to the following companies: Ash Grove Cement Company (Overland Park, KS); CEMEX, (Houston, TX); California Portland Cement Company, (Glendora, CA); Essroc Cement Corp., (Nazareth, PA); Holcim (US) Inc., (Dundee, MI); LaFarge North America, Inc. , (Herndon, VA); Lehigh Cement Company, (Allentown, PA); Lonestar/Buzzi Unicem, (Bethlehem, PA.); and Texas Industries, Inc., (Dallas, TX).
Kiln-specific findings from across the U.S. include the following:
In a clear sign of the limitations of the initial EPA data, the federal agency released no data on one cement industry leader, CEMEX, which has claimed that the information EPA requested -- information directly related to the amount of mercury it releases into our air and waters -- is confidential business information. All of the data reviewed by the EPA was self-reported by the kiln companies.
The process for making cement often relies on fuels and raw materials that are high in mercury content. While the large quantity of mercury emissions from cement kilns is not widely known, it is hardly surprising. Just over 150 cement kilns operate in the United States and, each year, they "cook" thousands of tons of rock -- primarily limestone -- at more than 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. To fuel this cooking process, cement kilns burn primarily coal. Both the rock and the coal contain mercury, a highly volatile metal that evaporates at room temperature. Virtually all the mercury in the coal and limestone is vaporized in the cement production process, and the vast majority of that mercury enters our air through the kilns' smokestacks.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system. Exposure to mercury can be particularly hazardous for pregnant women and small children. During the first several years of life, a child's brain is still developing and rapidly absorbing nutrients. Prenatal and infant mercury exposure can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. Even in low doses, mercury may affect a child's development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities. The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council estimated in a 2000 report that approximately 60,000 children per year may be born in the US with neurological problems due to in utero exposure to methylmercury. Mercury poses a threat to adult men, as well as women and children. In adults, mercury poisoning can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and numbness of the fingers and toes.
James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500