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Cement Plants Pose "Double Self-Reported Risk"

July 24, 2008

Albany, NY — Dangerous mercury emissions from cement plants in New York and across the nation are up 100 percent from the rate previously reported, according to Earth Justice. Congress told the Environmental Protection Agency more than a decade ago to curb those mercury emissions, but a new Earth Justice report that came out Wednesday says inaction by the EPA is causing problems.

Earth Justice attorney Keri Powell says cement plants located near Albany are the greatest concern in New York. She says one of those plants ranks among the top five in the nation for hazardous mercury emissions.

"At Lafarge you end up with about 400 pounds of mercury emitted each year. One-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury, a tiny fraction of an ounce, is enough to contaminate an entire lake, and that means that the fish in that lake will be unsafe for people to eat."

Just this month, the Lafarge plant announced it would shut down its old kiln and construct a new one with scrubber technology that meets more stringent safety standards for mercury and other hazardous emissions. Powell says that's good news, but she hopes the plant can do it sooner than expected, in 2013, because exposure to mercury has been linked to birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities, and developmental problems.

She says New York lawmakers set standards to limit emissions from coal plants, but there are no limits on mercury from cement production.

"It turns out that cement plants emit as much as 23,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year, and that's about twice the amount that the companies had been self-reporting as recently as 2006."

There are about 110 cement plants nationwide, and last year the EPA agreed to start tracking mercury emissions from them for the first time.

Michael Clifford/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY