EPA Sets Limits to Reduce Mercury Emissions from Cement Plants

by | Aug 10, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday issued final rules it says will protect Americans’  health by cutting emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from cement manufacturing, the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the U.S.

EPA says the rules will save lives but that cement makers warned they could drive jobs overseas. This is the first time the federal government has restricted emissions from existing cement kilns. The regulations aim to reduce, by 2013, the annual emissions of mercury and particulate matter by 92 percent, hydrochloric acid by 97 percent and sulfur dioxide by 78 percent.

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

In addition to curbing mercury air emissions the new rules will set emission limits that reduce acid gases, limit particulate pollution and set new-kiln limits for particle and smog-forming nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

When fully implemented in 2013, EPA estimates the annual emissions will be reduced:

—  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 5 percent

Mercury in the air eventually deposits into water, where it is transformed into methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish. People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. Developing fetuses and children are most sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury.

The cement industry  waged an intense lobbying campaign against the regulations, which the EPA first proposed in 2009.  The final rules slightly increase mercury limits, but EPA officials said the overall emissions limits did not “appreciably change” from what they first proposed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Patti Flesher, a spokeswoman for the Portland Cement Association, said that some of the 100 cement plants nationwide wouldn’t be able to meet the new standards and would have to close, the Miami Herald  reported.

The industry group said in a statement that it estimated that the pollution control equipment needed to meet the new standards would cost its members several billion dollars. It also warned that the U.S. might then import more cement from countries that continue to allow mercury and other emissions.

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