Activists from Across Country Travel to Testify Against Cement Kiln Pollution
EPA continues to allow mercury, other pollutants from cement production industry
Jared Saylor / James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Activists from across the country have gathered to protest the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to set limits on mercury pollution from cement makers. EPA has never regulated mercury from cement kilns, and nearly a dozen citizens are organizing to deliver a message on behalf of communities exposed to toxic pollution from these cement kilns that EPA must protect their health, livelihood and the environment.
“While EPA protects the interests of the cement industry, my farm and water supplies are being threatened by mercury from a nearby cement plant,” said Florida business owner December McSherry. “The cement kilns only a few miles from my home are some of the region’s biggest polluters, and mercury emissions are hurting my business and threatening my health.”
EPA decided to hold a hearing January 24 at its facility in Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina. While there are approximately 120 cement kilns currently operating in America, there are none in North Carolina. In a little publicized December 2005 notice, EPA proposed to allow cement kilns to continue mercury pollution without any emission limit whatsoever.
In crafting its regulations for cement kilns, EPA officials met with cement industry representatives repeatedly, but made no effort to meet with representatives of affected communities. “EPA is sending a message that they just don’t care to involve us in decisions that are designed to protect our health and environment,” said Marti Sinclair, Chairperson of the Sierra Club’s Air Quality Committee. “Since EPA won’t come talk to us, the only way we can make ourselves heard is to travel to EPA. Not everyone can afford to do this. It’s sad that EPA has set up this barrier between itself and the people affected by mercury pollution.”
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause developmental problems in young children, newborns and fetuses. “I expected the authorities to do something about the mercury coming from the three cement plants located near my home,” said Alexandra Allred, a volunteer with the Texas-based nonprofit Downwinders At Risk. “Instead, EPA did nothing. My children are exposed to unhealthy mercury levels every day. It is not right that an agency responsible for protecting our health and environment is doing so little to reduce pollution and create cleaner air.”
Because mercury bioaccumulates, fish are often contaminated with mercury. “Forty states now warn against eating fish caught in rivers, lakes and streams due to unhealthy levels of mercury found in fish populations,” said Eric Uram, an avid fisherman and long-time resident of the Great Lakes region. “Like many other parents around the Great Lakes, I want to be able to take my son fishing, but unfortunately, mercury contamination in the fish here forces one to ask if it’s really safe to feed these fish to my family?”
The cement industry has lobbied to block the regulation of their mercury emissions and has donated heavily to political campaigns in past election cycles, according to the website www.opensecrets.org. Many cement kilns in the United States are actually owned by foreign companies based in Europe, where such uncontrolled mercury emissions would be illegal.
“It is unconscionable that EPA is attempting to turn a blind eye to mercury emissions from cement plants,” said Becky Bornhorst, a volunteer with Downwinders At Risk. “We all know how serious exposure to mercury is for our children. This is one more example of the special treatment the cement industry enjoys.”
In 2000, a federal court ordered EPA to set mercury limits for cement kilns. After over five years of inaction, EPA finally proposed a rule last December that failed to include mercury controls. “Simply put, EPA ignored the law, ignored a court order and disregarded its mission to protect public health,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew.
In the EPA’s most recently issued report, in 2002, cement kilns nationwide emitted nearly 13,000 pounds of mercury.
Biographies of Citizens Traveling to EPA to Testify Against Cement Emission:
- Marti Sinclair: Marti’s two children attended preschool and grade school within blocks of an Oklahoma cement plant. She now resides in Ohio and chairs the Sierra Club’s National Air Committee.
- Alex Allred: Alex is a mother of three, a writer and former U.S. Olympic athlete. She and her husband and children have lived in Midlothian, TX for four years. She is a volunteer with the nonprofit groups Downwinders At Risk.
- Eric Uram: Eric is a long-time fishing enthusiast, and currently resides in Madison, WI with his wife and three-year-old son. His travels have taken him throughout North America where he has pursued local fishing opportunities with family and friends. Uram purchases in the range of five to ten fishing licenses in various jurisdictions during a typical fishing season.
- Becky Bornhorst: Becky volunteers for Downwinders at Risk, a grassroots citizens’ group organized to oppose cement plant pollution in Ellis County, the cement capitol of Texas. She is the mother of two college aged children who were in elementary school when she began her volunteer activities for Downwinders.
- December McSherry: December is a cattle rancher and farmer who lives outside Gainesville, FL. She is an active member of the Sierra Club and has fought to limit pollution from a cement plant located just a few miles from her 70-acre farm.
Please contact Jared Saylor at (202) 667-4500 to speak with any of the attendees.
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