Environmental groups took action today to push for reductions of dangerous mercury pollution from New York cement kilns. The groups are urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Eliot Spitzer to include mandatory mercury reductions in an air pollution permit for the Lafarge North America plant, the state’s largest cement kiln.
New York’s three cement kilns, in Ravena, Glens Falls, and Catskill, account for approximately 600 pounds of mercury emissions each year, or about half of the total amount of mercury coming from the state’s 26 coal-fired power plant boilers. As actual mercury emissions testing from two of the three kilns have not been measured, it is possible that the real numbers for mercury from cement kilns could be much higher.
“The cement industry in New York has for years been given a free ride when it comes to reducing their mercury pollution,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Chair Susan Lawrence. “It’s time Lafarge and other cement kilns start drastically reducing this dangerous pollution and protecting our air and water from mercury contamination.”
State law authorizes the NYSDEC Commissioner to require the state’s cement kilns to reduce their mercury cement kiln emissions by as much as 99%. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been foot-dragging for nearly a decade on producing a national rule limiting mercury pollution from cement kilns.
“EPA has been sitting idly by while cement kilns spew toxic pollution into our air and water. The State of New York should step in and address this public health hazard,” said Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell. “New York has often been a leader in environmental protection. Now is the time for the governor and the DEC to lead us toward better protection from mercury pollution.”
Earthjustice, on behalf of Sierra Club and other local environmental and public health groups, has challenged the EPA’s federal cement kiln rule, claiming that it violates the Clean Air Act by failing to require cement kilns to reduce their mercury emissions. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo joined in that litigation, and while he was attorney general, Governor Spitzer joined in a separate lawsuit challenging a weak Bush administration plan that did little to limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
“As attorney general, Governor Spitzer worked to protect New York by fighting for a stringent limit on mercury pollution from power plants,” said Jason K. Babbie, Senior Environmental Policy Analyst with NYPIRG, the New York Public Interest Research Group. “We hope the Spitzer administration will build on his track record of leadership on this issue by including strict mercury limits for the Lafarge kiln and all other New York cement kilns.”
In addition to limiting mercury pollution from the Lafarge kiln, the groups are urging the DEC to test mercury emissions from the kilns in Glens Falls and Catskill. In 2002, the Lafarge kiln reported annual mercury emissions of only 40 pounds; it was not until actual stack emissions testing in 2004 that it was discovered the kiln actually emits approximately 400 pounds of mercury each year. Currently, the Lehigh Northeast Cement Co. in Glens Falls reports annual mercury emissions of only 14 pounds, while the St. Lawrence Cement Co. plant in Catskill reports annual mercury emissions of only 49 pounds. It is likely that mercury emissions from these facilities are much higher.
“Without definitive stack emissions testing, there’s no way to know for sure what these kilns are emitting,” Powell added.
“Especially because of its egregious under-reporting of mercury emissions, Lafarge’s Title V air permit should not be renewed by the DEC without specific controls on mercury emissions,” said Susan Falzon, member of the Board of Directors with Friends of Hudson. “Given the public health impacts of mercury it is unconscionable that three cement kilns operating within about 50 miles of one another — Lafarge in Ravena, SLC (Holcim) Catskill and Glens Fall Lehigh — emit massive amounts of mercury that would not be permissible if they were power plants. New York must immediately implement enforceable limits on mercury emissions in the cement industry to protect the health of pregnant and nursing mothers and their children.”
Mercury pollution is a major problem for New York and the northeastern United States. To date, the New York State Department of Health has issued fish consumption advisories for at least 85 specific waterbodies or sections of water bodies, warning women of childbearing age not to eat fish because of dangerously high mercury levels. The EPA estimates that 1 in every 6 women has mercury levels in their blood high enough to harm development in unborn children.
“Forest ecosystems with wetlands, rivers and lakes that have been impacted by acid rain, such as those in New York, are highly sensitive to mercury pollution,” said Dr. Charles T. Driscoll, university Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering and Director of the Center for Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University. “In particular a biological mercury hotspot in the Adirondacks and the Catskill region has been identified as an area of concern due to mercury pollution. Studies have shown that lakes in New York and elsewhere in the Northeast have received substantial inputs of mercury from local and regional sources, so any controls on these sources will help decrease this mercury contamination.”
Listen to WAMC (New York) story on cement kilns in New York State