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Cement Plants Must Cut Mercury Emissions Under New EPA Rules
WASHINGTON, DC, August 12, 2010 (ENS) - For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is acting to control the emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other pollutants from Portland cement manufacturing, the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States.

Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use across the country because it is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco and most non-specialty grout.

EPA is finalizing amendments to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, NESHAP, for the Portland cement manufacturing industry and to the New Source Performance Standards for Portland cement plants.

The final rules announced Monday set the nation's first limits on mercury air emissions from existing cement kilns. They strengthen the limits for new kilns, and sets emission limits that will reduce acid gases.

The rules also limit particle pollution from new and existing kilns, and set new-kiln limits for particle and smog-forming nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

"Americans throughout the country are suffering from the effects of pollutants in our air, especially our children who are more vulnerable to these chemicals," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

TXI cement plant in Midlothian, Texas (Photo by Of Mine Design)

"This administration is committed to reducing pollution that is hurting the health of our communities. With this historic step, we are going a long way in accomplishing that goal," she said. "By reducing harmful pollutants in the air we breathe, we cut the risk of asthma attacks and save lives."

Mercury can damage children's developing brains, and particle pollution is linked to serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

The Portland Cement Association, an industry trade group based in Illinois, opposes the new rules. The association agrees with a study published in March by King's College in London that found forcing cement plants to comply with the new regulations will shift some of the supply burden offshore to countries like China, the world's largest cement producer.

Brian McCarthy, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association, said, "The EPA's NESHAP rules seek to further reduce the emissions from cement manufacturing plants operating on U.S. soil. PCA member companies meet, and often surpass, current EPA emissions standards. However, by imposing these new, untested regulations, many plants will be forced to close or drastically reduce their supply output."

"If the rules are implemented as they currently stand, then we can expect a rise in cement imports, resulting in a sharp increase in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, global cement plant emissions and yet another blow to the U.S. economy," McCarthy said.

None of the emissions reduced by the new EPA rules are greenhouse gas emissions.

Of particular concern is the argument that Chinese-manufactured cement does not meet the same high environmental performance and quality standards as U.S.-manufactured cement, said McCarthy. The King's College study cites one example from Beijing's China University which estimates that less than 10 percent of China's environmental laws are actually enforced.

By pushing production to another country with less regulations and standards, the PCA argues, global plant emissions and lifecycle greenhouse gases will increase, negating the efforts of the EPA to foster a cleaner environment.

In May, the American Materials Manufacturing Alliance, a group of energy-intensive industries, announced that between 1990 and 2008, industrials was the only sector of the U.S. economy in which greenhouse gas emissions fell.

The EPA maintains that when fully implemented in 2013, annual emissions will be reduced by the following amounts:

  • Mercury: 16,600 pounds or 92 percent
  • Total hydrocarbons: 10,600 tons or 83 percent
  • Particulate Matter: 11,500 tons or 92 percent
  • Acid gases: (measured as hydrochloric acid): 5,800 tons or 97 percent
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2): 110,000 tons or 78 percent
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx): 6,600 tons or five percent
Mercury in the air eventually deposits into water, where it changes into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish. People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish.

Because the developing fetus is the most sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury, women of childbearing age and children are regarded as the populations of greatest concern.

The EPA says the new rules are expected to yield between $7 and $19 in public health benefits for every dollar in costs.

EPA estimates that the rules will yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in health and environmental benefits, with costs estimated at $926 million to $950 million annually in 2013.

Another EPA analysis estimates emission reductions and costs will be lower, with costs projected to be $350 million annually.

Click here to read the new rules in detail.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.



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