Power Plants Not Alone in Mercury Pollution

EPA gives cement kilns a free pass to spew thousands of pounds of mercury pollution every year


James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

While power plants remain the nation’s largest source of dangerous mercury pollution, an entire industry is receiving a free ride when it comes to curtailing their mercury emissions. Over 100 cement kilns across the country account for at least 11,000 pounds of mercury pollution each year, but without regulations to limit their mercury pollution there is no certain way of knowing exactly how mercury these facilities actually emit.

USA Today reported today that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates “as many as 600,000 babies may be born in the USA each year with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish.” Mercury pollution is rampant, and while it is well known that power plants are a major source of this pollution, cement kilns are silently contributing unhealthy mercury emissions into our air and water.

“These kilns are the perfect storm for mercury pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “They burn coal to heat limestone, and use power plant fly ash to mix with the cement. All these ingredients contain mercury, yet EPA continues to ignore this problem and ignore the law that requires them to clean up their mercury pollution.”

Cement kilns across the country report voluntary data to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. However, time and again, while the kilns report only small emissions, actual stack testing reveals a much larger problem. For instance, a cement kiln in Alpena, MI, reported emitting only 66 pounds of mercury; after the state required the facility to test its emission, it showed the kiln actually emitted over 560 pounds of mercury. In Ravena, NY, just south of Albany, a Lafarge cement kiln reported mercury emissions in 2002 of only 40 pounds; actual emissions testing in 2004 revealed the kiln was emitting over 400 pounds of mercury.

“There is something wrong going on at these facilities, and EPA has been looking the other way for nearly a decade,” said Pew.

Earthjustice, on behalf of Sierra Club, Downwinders at Risk, Montanans Against Toxic Burning, Friends of Hudson, Desert Citizens Against Pollution and Huron Environmental Activist League has sued the EPA in federal court for its failure to comply with the Clean Air Act and issue regulations that require cement kilns to limit mercury pollution. A federal court has twice ordered EPA to issue these regulations, but both times the agency has balked, opting instead to avoid their legal requirements.

The EPA estimates that 1 in every 6 women of child bearing age have mercury levels in their blood high enough to harm development in unborn and young children. Mercury pollution is a dangerous neurotoxin that can affect brain development and cognitive functions.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.