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Lawsuits: Cement Industry a Mercury "Free-Fire Zone" in OH, Elsewhere

February 26, 2007

The cement industry is getting a free pass to spread mercury pollution, according to two lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The suits, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals by seven environmental groups and nine states, claim the E.P.A. is ignoring its duty under the Clean Air Act to cut mercury emissions from cement kilns -- including 14 here in Ohio, and others in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Marti Sinclair of the Sierra Club's Ohio office says the state's rivers and lakes already have a big mercury problem, and unregulated emissions from cement plants are making it worse.

"It's a huge problem for Ohio. At the state our environment is in at this point, we need mercury taken out of the water so that we can restore that natural resource to be used by the people of Ohio."

The E.P.A. estimates nationally, cement plants emit more than five tons of mercury per year. Jim Pew, an attorney with the group Earthjustice, says that's far too much, and that the E.P.A.'s figures underestimate the problem.

"Most cement plants don't even measure their mercury emissions. So, the numbers that the Environmental Protection Agency is providing are really based on little more than guesses."

The cement industry argues that additional mercury controls are not necessary and would be too expensive to install. But the federal lawsuits point to the health costs of mercury pollution, including increased risk of birth defects.

Rob Ferrett/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - OH