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EPA Adopts Strong Protections Against Air Pollution from Cement Kilns

Mercury, other toxic air pollutants reduced up to 92%
August 9, 2010
Washington, D.C. — 

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson today announced the nation’s strongest air pollution rules for over 100 cement kilns across the country. The move will result in significant pollution reductions of mercury, fine particle pollution, hydrochloric acid, and total hydrocarbons from the cement manufacturing industry. The EPA was under a settlement agreement to finalize the rule by Aug. 6 after environmental groups won a challenge in federal court to the agency’s previously weak emission standard.

The EPA estimates that cutting air pollution from cement kilns could result in up to 2,500 premature deaths avoided each year. The EPA also estimates benefits from cutting this air pollution of up to $18 billion annually, starting in 2013 when the rule takes effect.

Some cement kilns are huge mercury polluters. In 2008, the Ash Grove Cement Co. in Durkee, OR, reported emitting over 1,500 pounds of mercury from its stacks, making it the 5th biggest mercury air polluter in the country.

According to the EPA, today’s rule:

  • Cuts 16,600 pounds of mercury, roughly 92%
  • Cuts 11,500 pounds of particulate matter, roughly 92%
  • Cuts 5,800 pounds of hydrogen chloride, roughly 97%
  • Cuts 10,600 pounds of total hydrocarbons, roughly 83%

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that interferes with the brain and nervous systems, resulting in birth defects, loss of IQ and developmental problems. Particulate matter causes serious health impacts on lungs and breathing, including decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty in breathing. Hydrogen chloride also causes respiratory problems such as coughing, irritated nose and throat, and heart problems.

Additionally, the EPA also announced that it was moving towards proposing limits on greenhouse gas pollution from cement kilns. This effort will move forward separately from today’s announcement to clean up mercury and other toxic air pollution from these kilns. The agency said that cement kilns are the 3rd largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases and that there appear to be cost-effective technologies to curb those emissions.

Modernizing older cement kilns with technologies such as scrubbers and activated carbon injection will help to create more jobs for the cement industry and will help preserve jobs in existing communities. The1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act mandated that major air polluters such as cement kilns must limit toxic air pollutants such as mercury, hydrogen chloride, and organic hazardous air pollutants, among others. In a decision issued during the Bush administration, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that EPA had been “grossly negligent” in making efforts to comply with the Clean Air Act’s air toxics requirements.

“We’re glad that EPA saw fit to write a single strict standard for these pollutants that will apply to every cement kiln in the U.S.,” said Jim Schermbeck, with the Dallas, Texas-based group Downwinders At Risk. “All Americans deserve the same level of protection from toxic emissions from these facilities, regardless of where they live.”

“Parents across the nation should be pleased that the EPA issued rules today significantly reducing pollution from cement kilns. Many of those pollutants have severe adverse impacts on kids’ health: lead, mercury, and particulate matter all impact young children’s neurological development and breathing. Kudos to the EPA for putting children’s health over the profits of the cement industry,” said Jane Williams, longtime activist on cement kiln pollution and chair of the Sierra Club air toxics task force.

“We've been living with the pollution from the Lafarge Cement plant in Alpena for decades,” said Bill Freese, Director for Huron Environmental Activist League. “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.”

“For years, the cement industry has gotten a free pass to pollute our air and water,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “Previous administrations ignored the law and turned a blind eye towards the cost of pollution on our health and environment. Under Lisa Jackson, the EPA has taken the necessary steps to finally curtail some of the biggest polluters and clean up our air and water. Today’s announcement will save lives and prevent suffering from cement kiln pollution’s devastating health effects for thousands of Americans.”

“We urge EPA to adopt protective limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cement kilns in a speedy and efficient manner,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. "As legislation in Congress to curb greenhouse gases stalls, EPA must commit to use its authority under the Clean Air Act and set a firm timeline that ensures cleanup of major stationary greenhouse gas sources."

Regional Kiln Information

  • According to the EPA’s own Toxics Release Inventory, the Ash Grove Cement Co. facility in Durkee, Oregon, spewed 1,508 pounds of mercury from its stack in 2008 alone, making it the largest mercury-emitting cement kiln, and the 5th biggest mercury polluter of any kind in the country.
  • The Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. in Tehachapi, California pumped 945 pounds of mercury into the air in 2008, according to the Toxics Release Inventory.
  • The Lafarge site in Alpena, Michigan is a five-kiln plant, and in 2008 emitted 359 pounds of mercury, according to the latest data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. 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.
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. operates a kiln in Cupertino, California. The kiln reported emitting a staggering 587 pounds of mercury pollution in 2008 to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, making it the nation’s 4th worst mercury-emitting cement kiln. This kiln is located within a major residential area in close proximity to several Cupertino schools. It is also located within five miles of the San Francisco Bay, which is currently contaminated with mercury.

To see a map of all the nation's cement kilns, please visit: http://www.earthjustice.org/features/interactive-cement-kiln-map


Contact:
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x 213 (Washington, D.C.)
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club (804) 225-9113 x 102
Bill Freese, Huron Environmental Activist League (989) 464-1374 (Michigan)
Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders At Risk (806) 787-6567 (Texas)