Written by Lisa Sharp
Cement is a big part of our lives. We walk on it, itís in our homes, we drive on it, itís everywhere. However, most of us rarely think about cement. This isnít the case for me. Iím always thinking about cement because there is a cement plant just over two miles away from my house.
My grandmother was a part of a group that fought the cement plant when they wanted to burn hazardous waste in the early 90ís, so I grew up knowing the plant was polluting the air. While they were able to stop the plant from burning hazardous waste, the plant did start burning tires which are still very toxic.
The local plant is on the†EPAís high priority violator of the Clean Air Act list. They have been in violation of the Clean Air Act for 12 of 12 quarters and were most recently fined just under $45,000 in July. Back in 2005 they violated over 1,000 times in one year and were only fined $321,000.
I have personally been effected by the cement plantís pollution. I have asthma. When I was young and living even closer to the plant, my asthma was even worse than when I lived outside of the city.
Another thing you will notice in my town is the amount of dust. The closer to the plant, the worse it is. Itís fine white dust that never seems to go away. I can dust in the morning and by nighttime itís already dusty again. I have to wonder whatís in that dust.
Whatís Coming Out of the Stack?
What is the plant putting into the air? One of the big things is mercury. You likely know about mercury from coal power plants, but did you know that cement plants are the third largest emitter of mercury?
There is some good news. New EPA rules, scheduled to begin September 2013, will reduce the amount of mercury cement plants can emit. They will be banned from emitting more than 55 pounds of mercury per million tons of cement produced. The EPA estimates reducing fine particle pollution from cement plants will save up to 2,500 lives each year.
The cement industry is fighting these rules. They say regulations would cost billions and force closures of some plants. However, federal regulators’ numbers are far lower than the industries numbers.
There are also bills like the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 (H.R. 2681) that threaten to allow cement plants even more freedom to pollute. This bill has passed the House but has yet to go to the Senate.
Mercury is not the only toxin coming out of the stack. They also emit things like ammonia, benzene, certain glycol ethers, chromium, diethanolamine, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, ethylene glycol, lead, manganese, sulfuric acid and zinc compounds.
Here are some things you can do to help clean up cement plants:
- Contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to clean up the mercury!
- Follow groups like the Momís Clean Air Force, American Lung Association, and Earthjustice to stay up-to-date and environmental legislation.
- Write a letter to your local newspaper telling people why clean air is important. The Momís Clean Air Force has a great sample letter you can check out.
Photo credit: Glittering Shards