In defiance of a court order issued almost four years ago, the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still has not issued regulations to reduce air pollution from cement kilns, a major source of mercury and other toxic emissions. This failure to take the necessary -- and legally mandated -- steps to protect public health and the environment has prompted Earthjustice to file a legal action on behalf of the Sierra Club asking the court to compel the agency to finally comply with the original court order.
The Bush administration's refusal to issue these air pollution regulations has resulted in virtually unregulated toxic emissions of mercury, hydrogen chloride and organic hazardous air pollutants (organic HAPs) from the nation's 137 cement kilns. EPA's own estimates reveal that the cement kiln industry emits approximately 5 tons of mercury, 580 tons of organic HAPs, and more than 15,000 tons of hydrogen chloride each year.
Mercury is a known neurotoxin that can cause adverse reproductive and developmental health effects and is dangerous in extremely small amounts. Hydrogen chloride, also known as hydrochloric acid, is a powerful irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. Organic HAPs are comprised of various substances and can have a number of harmful effects, ranging from respiratory disturbance to increased cancer risk.
"Cement kilns emit large amounts of mercury and other air pollutants and they need to have the best air pollution control technology available if public health is to come before profits," Jane Williams of Sierra Club said. "The Bush administration's refusal to properly regulate these kilns puts at risk every single person living near these facilities. For the agency to neglect protection for these citizens is unacceptable."
The cement kiln industry operates facilities in thirty-seven states spanning every region of the country. Cement kilns release toxins during the cement manufacturing process, which involves burning both fossil fuels and various types of waste-derived fuels.
"By ignoring the court's order, the Environmental Protection Agency has shown contempt for the rule of law and blatant disregard for human health," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew.
In December 2000, the federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ordered EPA to issue regulations required under the Clean Air Act to limit the amount of mercury, hydrogen chloride and organic hazardous air pollutants from cement kilns. The Bush administration has not complied with the court's order. The legal action filed today by Earthjustice and Sierra Club asks the D.C. Circuit to compel the administration to obey the court order and control toxic emissions from cement kilns.
"In spite of the fact that 45 states have fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination and even though one in six American women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk, the Bush administration continues to ignore science and is letting these facilities off the hook for cleaning up this poison," said Navis Bermudez, Director of Sierra Club's Clean Water Campaign.
EPA's failure to act on controlling toxic pollution from cement kilns is yet another instance of the Bush administration's refusal to protect public health and the environment from the threat of toxic mercury. In addition to the cement kiln industry, the administration is attempting to weaken and delay mercury pollution reductions from coal-burning power plants, an industrial sector that emits some 48 tons of mercury each year. The Bush administration is also ignoring a massive problem in the mercury cell chlor-alkali industry, where some 65 tons of mercury goes unaccounted for each year. The administration's only explanation is that this missing mercury is "something of an enigma."
Petition & Exhibits Submitted to Court
State-specific information on toxic mercury emissions from cement kilns: