Cement Plants Mercury News

Cupertino California - Lehigh Cement Plant

03/14/2011

Lehigh Quarry Under Microscope for Possible Water Violations

The Lehigh Southwest Cement quarry came under further scrutiny last week, in part after revelations that the company is possibly discharging millions of gallons of unpermitted water containing sediment and toxins into Permanente Creek and San Francisco Bay.

03/08/2011

Committee minimizes quarry health concerns: Lehigh tagged with follow-up violation for water dumping

Despite public outcry against allegedly harmful emissions from a nearby quarry, members of a joint Los Altos-Los Altos Hills committee investigating Cupertino’s Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant determined last week that concerns might be overstated.

02/18/2011

New Website About Lehigh Cement Plant Data Made Available By Los Altos and Los Altos Hills

Two newly created fact-finding committees of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills city councils have jointly created a website for residents who want to look at documents and data involving the Lehigh cement quarry operations.

02/15/2011

Lehigh Not A Sponsor For CEEF Fundraising Gala

Lehigh Southwest Cement will not be supporting this year’s Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation (CEEF) fundraising gala in March, despite the fact that the company has sponsored the event in the past and is prominently featured on invitations and in publicity.

02/15/2011

CEEF returned donation from the Lehigh cement plant; each side offers a different explanation. [Translated from Chinese]
Cupertino Endowment Education Foundation (CEEF) pointed out that due to the political controversy generated by Lehigh cement plant's new quarrying activities, they reached a verbal consensus with Lehigh last week such that CEEF will decline the donation from Lehigh for the "CEEF 2011 Gala" fund-raising campaign.

02/11/2011

Fisher: An uphill battle for cement plant opponents

The folks who worry about the impact of living near the Lehigh Cement plant in the Cupertino hills call it a "big, dirty secret." "Lehigh has been polluting for years," says Hoi Yung Poon, a vocal member of the grass-roots group No Toxic Air. "And no one wants to talk about it."

02/09/2011

Board of Supervisors says century-old quarry in Cupertino still has vested rights

At a packed hearing to help guide future decisions about land use by Lehigh Permanente Quarry, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously agreed that operators of had "vested rights" for numerous parcels on its site in unincorporated Cupertino.

02/09/2011

Quarry Vote Favors Cement Plant Rights—And Portends More Citizen Action

Part courtroom procedural, part political theater, Tuesday’s county public hearing over "vested rights" for the quarry owned by the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group provided plenty of drama.

02/08/2011

Breaking News about Santa Clara County Granting Vested Rights to Lehigh Cement near Cupertino

On February 8, 2011 at around 5 pm Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant vested rights, often referred to as nonconforming use for surface mining activities, to most of the approximately 2,656 acres supposedly owned by Kaiser Cement prior to 1948 as requested by Lehigh at a special evidentiary hearing and disregarded their own County staff's recommendation that there was a lack of direct evidence that much of these areas were intended to be used for mining operations which included the East Material Storage Area.

02/08/2011

Quarry has vested rights, county rules

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday evening that Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant, located in unincorporated county land near Cupertino and Los Altos, maintains a vested right to operate certain portions of its several-thousand-acre facility purchased before 1948.

02/08/2011

County Supervisors Unanimously Vote in Favor of Quarry Land Rights

In a major win for the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday evening in favor of "vested rights" for the majority of the company's mining operations at the Permanente quarry, despite calls from dozens of residents to limit or deny those rights.

02/08/2011

Hundreds Turn Out at Public Hearing on Lehigh Cement Plant's Proposed Operations

Dozens of anti-mine demonstrators held signs saying 'No Vested Rights,' 'No Mercury,' 'No More Dust,' at a hearing today at the county supervisors meeting.

02/04/2011

Two Major Opportunities For Public to Weigh in on Lehigh Cement Plant

A public hearing on Feb. 8 at the county level and a written comment period to the air quality district is now open until March 25 give residents a chance to voice opinions.

01/27/2011

Commentary: Residents respond to Cupertino's Lehigh Cement plant manager

Lehigh Permanente Cement Plant and Quarry (owned by Heidelberg Cement of Germany) is supposed to be highly regulated. However, in his recent commentary, plant manager Henrik Wesseling fails to acknowledge that Lehigh has a long history of elevated mercury emissions and regulatory violations for air, water, land and labor issues.

01/26/2011

Los Altos Council Approves Cement Plant Fact-Finding Committee

The Los Altos City Council will consider asking for air and water quality stations, special committee and more to examine the Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant and Quarry.

01/25/2011

Council Weighs Heavier Involvement in Cement Plant Issue

Unanimous vote will launch committee to investigate effects of local plant on air and water in Los Altos.

12/23/2010

Angry Residents Tell Council to Stand Up to Cement Plant, County

Cupertino City Council members say they have represented the public's interests when it comes to Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and Quarry; residents disagree.

12/21/2010

MSHA announces results of November impact inspections

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration on December 21 announced that federal inspectors issued 250 citations, orders and safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at 12 coal and 10 metal/nonmetal mine operations last month.

12/21/2010

Residents speak up against cement plant expansion plans

In Cupertino, the city council listened to hours of testimony Tuesday night from people who oppose the expansion of a local cement plant. The Lehigh Cement Plant is located south of I-280 on Stevens Creek Boulevard.

12/21/2010

Lehigh Southwest Cement discharges worry neighbors

Neighbors of a historic South Bay cement plant are urging authorities to block plans for extending the facility's life for 20 years, arguing the operation spews potentially harmful amounts of mercury into the air.

12/21/2010

Cupertino cement plant draws neighbors' ire

Hundreds of residents of a Cupertino neighborhood are calling for an end to a cement plant that they accuse of releasing potentially harmful amounts of mercury.

11/30/2010

Los Altos Hills City Council could monitor quarry

The longstanding controversy surrounding nearby Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and its allegedly harmful emissions made its way to the Los Altos Hills City Council last month.

11/22/2010

Local Cement Plant Criticized

The controversy over Lehigh South Cement's Permanente plant will continue into the new year when the Los Altos Hills Town Council looks again at whether the plant has the right to use the land where it is currently storing quarried rock. City leaders are concerned about the environmental impact of plant operations as well as questioning whether whether Lehigh can use what's called the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA) for storing quarried rock that cannot be used for manufacturing cement.

11/20/2010

Los Altos Hills Town Council Sharply Criticizes Owners of Local Cement Plant

Members of the Los Altos Hills Town Council had some harsh words Thursday night for Lehigh Southwest Cement, and expressed doubts that county and other regulatory agencies are paying close enough attention to activities at the Permanente cement plant and quarry just to the south of the city's boundaries.

11/18/2010

Opponents offer 3-phase plan to halt cement plant operations

With a renewed five-year permit for Lehigh (formerly Kaiser) cement plant being considered, opponents of the pollutive facility in the Cupertino foothills are mounting a three-phase plan to halt operations.

11/17/2010

Los Altos council digs into quarry controversy: Plant officials continue to defend operations

Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, a vocal critic of emissions from nearby Lehigh Permanente Southwest Cement Plant in Cupertino, received support for his cause from the Los Altos City Council last week.

11/11/2010

Los Altos City Council Expresses 'Grave Concerns' About Local Cement Plant

The Los Altos City Council decided Tuesday to dig into a county debate over the future of a local quarry and cement plant that has been accused of pumping toxins into the air.

11/10/2010

Los Altos jumps into quarry debate

The Los Altos City Council decided Tuesday to dig into a county debate over the future of a local quarry and cement plant that has been accused of pumping toxins into the air.

10/14/2010

Middle School eCYBERMISSION Team Tests Mercury Levels, Takes Action

For the fourth year in a row, Harker students claimed regional recognition in eCYBERMISSION’s national competition, receiving monetary awards totaling $18,000 between the two teams.

09/23/2010

Residents near lehigh will soon know if air is polluted

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up a mobile air-monitoring station at Monta Vista Park on Sept. 1 and is working with the city to measure pollutants in the neighborhood, which is close to the Lehigh Southwest Cement facility off Stevens Creek Boulevard.

07/01/2010

Lehigh Cement unveils plan to reduce emissions by 25 percent

Lehigh Permanente cement plant announced June 23 that it has installed equipment to reduce mercury emissions by 25 percent.

05/19/2010

Cupertino council votes to install air monitor near Lehigh Cement plan

A recent surge in public pressure from residents regarding the air quality in neighborhoods around the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant has prompted the city to let the Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up an air monitoring station about two miles from the facility.

01/14/2010

Cupertino's Lehigh cement permit renewal on hold for new EPA standards

A permit renewal that outlines all federal regulations for the Lehigh Cement Plant's operation is on hold as regulatory officials wait to add tough new federal emission standards to the voluminous operating permit.

01/06/2010

Permit renewal withdrawn for Lehigh cement plant

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has withdrawn its Title V operating permit renewal for the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company, an apparent victory for increasingly vocal opponents of the Cupertino-based plant and quarry.

12/16/2009

Air district extends deadline for comment on Lehigh permit

A debate over the lack of public input spurred the Bay Area Air Quality Management District last month to give opponents of a longstanding Cupertino cement plant more time to petition against renewal of the plant’s operating permit.

11/17/2009

Original Commencers on Title V permit renewal can petition an Objection

In looking at the document regarding petitioning the EPA, it is only those who turned in comments on the Title V Renewal Permit who can bring a petition of objection to the EPA based on their already filed comments.

11/16/2009

Objection Period for Title V permit renewal

After a lot of researching, I just found out that the EPA already signed off on the Title V permit. While that is a terrible process, they are allowed to do so. There is a 60 day period in which to object. The EPA signed off on Sept 25 -- yep, BEFORE the end of the public comment period, BEFORE they got the info they requested from Lehigh, and BEFORE the public could review that info.

09/28/2009

Overwhelming public response could delay Cupertino cement plant's permit process

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District could delay until December a decision about whether Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant should have its permit renewed.

04/22/2009

EPA wants crackdown on cement plants' mercury

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday that will require cement plants in the United States - including plants in Cupertino and Santa Cruz County - to reduce stack emissions of mercury, dust and other pollutants.

03/25/2009

Differing views of the quarry: Controversy a constant companion as cement makers continue operations

The sight evokes a reaction that’s slightly less overwhelming than surveying the expanse of the Grand Canyon. Workers are mining a gigantic pit encompassing some 600 acres and plunging more than 700 feet deep into the earth.

01/07/2009

Chasing the Quarry: The state battles global warming in cement plants like Cupertino's Hanson Permanente

FROM the lip of the Hanson Permanente quarry, on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Cupertino, the Santa Clara Valley stretches out in panorama. Few cement plants in California are this close to this many people. 

07/24/2008

EPA urged to control mercury from cement kilns

Environmental groups Wednesday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce a law that would control the thousands of pounds of toxic mercury discharged into the atmosphere every year by cement kilns in the United States.

05/31/2006

Stevens Creek Reservoir lacks multilingual signs on toxic fish

There is a catch to fishing at Stevens Creek Reservoir--one that so far has only been posted in English. The reservoir, popular with a diverse group of anglers from throughout Santa Clara Valley, is home to highly toxic fish. The reservoir's water supply is tested regularly and is considered safe to drink.

11/03/2004

Reservoir's water is fine, but the fish are polluted

A recent scientific study revealed that there is something fishy in the waters of Cupertino's Stevens Creek Reservoir. A three-year study by the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Board determined the reservoir had the highest level of mercury in its fish out of the 10 local reservoirs surveyed.

Ash Grove Oregon - Ash Grove Cement Plant

11/15/2010

OR Cement Plant at Epicenter of EPA Air Pollution Battle

The Ash Grove Cement Company plant in Durkee, Oregon, is one of many under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on dangerous mercury emissions. The federal agency says the plant's mercury levels are among the highest in the country, and has announced new rules for cement kilns nationwide.

11/15/2010

Eastern Oregon Cement Plant At Center Of Pollution Debate

The Ash Grove Cement Company plant outside of Baker City is one of many locations ordered by the EPA to cut back mercury emissions. The agency said the mercury levels are currently some of the highest in the country.

11/08/2010

Ash Grove files suit against EPA’s ruling

The Ash Grove Cement Co. is looking for a judicial ruling on the mercury emissions at the plant near Durkee. Ash Grove officials have filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling on the National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

12/12/2009

Oregon drops the ball on mercury

Ash Grove Cement Co., Baker County's largest employer, is suspending operations this week. Cement consumption dropped nationally because of the recession.

09/30/2009

Oregon cement plant shutting down, cutting 68 jobs
Ash Grove Cement Co. announced layoffs Wednesday at its Durkee plant in Eastern Oregon and eight other factories around the nation. The Durkee plant, the largest private employer in Baker County, will lose 68 of its 115 employees, Ash Grove said.

08/04/2006

Errors understate mercury emissions

An Eastern Oregon cement plant that releases more toxic mercury into the air than any other source in the state actually emits far more mercury than it had reported to authorities.

Brooksville Florida - Cemex Cement Company

12/23/2010

Cemex fined for mercury emissions, ordered to make changes at Hernando kiln

Cemex has been slapped with a $525,000 fine for emitting mercury at levels nearly 10 times the allowable limit, and the company has been ordered to make changes to one of its Hernando cement kilns to alleviate the problem.

Evansville Pennsylvania - Lehigh Cement Company

09/16/2010

Residents complain about cement dust

After hearing complaints from several residents Wednesday night, the Maidencreek Township supervisors voted to send a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection asking officials to reopen an investigation of the Evansville Plant of Lehigh Cement Co.

09/15/2010

3 named to quarry-complaint panel

The Richmond Township supervisors have approved appointments for a board that will handle complaints stemming from an expanding quarry operation in the township.

Fairborn Ohio - CEMEX Inc.

02/11/2011

Cemex to pay $2M for pollution controls

CEMEX Inc. will pay a $1.4 million penalty for Clean Air Act violations at its site near Fairborn. In addition, Cemex will spend about $2 million on pollution controls.

La Salle Illinois - Illinois Cement Company

09/20/2010

Cement plants face new regulations

At first blush, the owners of the parent corporation of Illinois Cement Company don't know how a new series of federal environmental regulations will impact production at their plant in La Salle.

Mitchell Indiana - Lehigh Cement Plant

10/12/2007

Lehigh Cement Company to Modernize Mitchell, Indiana Cement Plant.

Lehigh Cement Company, a subsidiary of the German building materials company, HeidelbergCement, today announced plans to expand and upgrade its cement manufacturing plant in Mitchell, Indiana. The modernized plant will use the latest technology and equipment to significantly reduce energy usage, fuel consumption and emissions per ton of cement produced.

Ravena New York - Lafarge Cement Plant

01/31/2011

NY Cement Factory Singled Out as Source of Mercury Pollution

Thanks to Jeremy Piven, we all know that if you eat too much of mercury-carrying fish, you'll run into health problems. But a recent study by the Harvard University School of Public Health suggests that simply abstaining from sushi isn't enough to protect ourselves from this potent neurotoxin.

12/31/2010

Harvard to present heavy metals test results

Dr. Michael Bank, principal investigator for the Harvard School of Public Health's study of heavy metals in people within a ten-mile radius of the Ravena Lafarge Cement Plant will present group results at 8 p.m. on January 6 at the RCS High School on route 9W.

12/01/2010

No conclusion on Lafarge plant

A study by the state Health Department on pollution from the Lafarge cement plant reached no conclusion on whether such pollution might be making people sick, with a state official saying that answer will be addressed in a second study.

11/23/2010

Cement plant's impact on file

More than two years after announcing plans to replace its aging cement plant, which is the state's second-largest source of airborne mercury, Lafarge North America has filed a completed application with the state Department of Environmental Conservation outlining consequences of the $500 million project.

11/09/2010

NY Plant at Heart of Cement-Making Air Pollution Battle

The LaFarge cement plant in Ravena, south of Albany, is one of many cement factories nationwide under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on dangerous mercury emissions.

09/23/2009

Lafarge groups gets private state health briefing

A group formed by the Lafarge cement plant will hear from the state Health Department next week on a still-unfinished health study about potential health risks around the plant.

09/21/2010

Environmentalists meet Lafarge officials at info fair

Residents interested in modernization of the Lafarge Cement Plant in Ravena attended an information fair at Stuyvesant Town Hall last week.

Union Bridge Maryland - Lehigh Cement Plant

03/03/2011

Department of Environment accepts input on Lehigh draft

The Maryland Department of the Environment is keeping the record open until March 9 for comments on Lehigh Cement Co.'s Title V air quality permits after holding a public hearing Wednesday night.

08/24/2009

Process to help reduce mercury at Lehigh

Lehigh Cement Co. will install new equipment this week that the company is hoping will reduce its mercury output by up to 40 percent.

08/11/2009

Lehigh agrees to pollution requests

The state and Lehigh Cement Co. reached agreements on reducing mercury emissions from the Union Bridge cement plant as well as corrective actions for the plant for violating limits on particulate matter emissions in 2007.

08/10/2009

Department of the Environment Takes Action To Reduce Air And Mercury Pollution At Lehigh Cement In Union Bridge

The Maryland Department of the Environment today announced two significant actions to reduce mercury and resolve alleged particulate emission violations at Lehigh Cement Company’s Union Bridge plant in Carroll County.

01/08/2009

Lehigh plans to reduce mercury

The leader of an environmental watchdog group will be in New Windsor tonight to discuss a report that revealed high mercury releases out of the Lehigh Cement Co. plant in Union Bridge, but company leaders say the problem has already been solved.

07/24/2008

Activists: Mercury pollution from cement kilns unchecked

Cement kilns in Maryland and across the country emit thousands of pounds of mercury into the air and remain unchecked by federal regulators, according to a new report from an environmental watchdog group.

Wilmington, North Carolina - Titan Cement Plant

08/14/2010

EDITORIAL: Now that we know the new mercury rules, we can study the impact

After more than a year of foot-dragging, the federal government has come out with final mercury emission standards for Portland cement plants -- the type of plant Titan America wants to build along the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

News about China

04/03/2010

EPA Cooperative Activities in China

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been collaborating with its counterpart, China's Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), now Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), on environmental issues for over two decades.

04/01/2010

Air Pollution In China (many links to other sources)

According to the World Bank 16 of the worlds’s 20 cities with the worst air are in China. According to Chinese government sources, about a fifth of urban Chinese breath heavily polluted air. Many places smell like high-sulfur coal and leaded gasoline. Only a third of the 340 Chinese cities that are monitored meet China’s own pollution standards.

08/17/2009

Zimbabwean cement factory shut down on pollution concerns

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of Zimbabwe, which deals with environmental issues, has shutdown one of the country' largest cement manufacturing companies for causing water pollution. The Chinese-owned cement giant, Sino-Zimbabwe, which is situated in the town of Gweru about 200 kilometers north-east of Bulawayo, was ordered to close by EMA and this has seen hundreds of workers losing their jobs.

08/30/2007

China Environment Forum - "Environmental and Health Threats from Cement Production in China"

China is the world’s largest producer of cement, manufacturing 1.24 billion tons in 2006 alone. China’s cement production has grown about 10 percent per year over the past two decades, and is now growing even faster to keep up with massive urbanization. According to a press release from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, China produced 620 million tons of cement in the first half of 2007, which is an increase of 16 percent over the same period in the previous year.


Title: Lehigh Quarry Under Microscope for Possible Water Violations

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 03/14/2011

The Lehigh Southwest Cement quarry came under further scrutiny last week, in part after revelations that the company is possibly discharging millions of gallons of unpermitted water containing sediment and toxins into Permanente Creek and San Francisco Bay.

Officials from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board were at the quarry outside Cupertino on Wednesday to study the situation, after having sent a notice of violation to Lehigh officials in February stating that the company is violating its storm drain permit and must apply for a more stringent permit.

On Tuesday the Los Altos City Council had voted to support further study by a joint committee with the Los Altos Hills City Council. Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard and Los Altos Hills Councilman Gary Waldeck met earlier with water board and air quality officials in separate meetings to collect information about how the cement plant and quarry may be affecting residents and the surrounding environment.

Water Board Notices of Violation

On Feb. 18, the state water board issued a notice of violation stating that Lehigh is in violation of its Industrial Storm Water General Permit “and is discharging non-stormwater without permit coverage.” The company could be liable for fines of up to $10,000 a day in administrative fines, or up to $25,000 a day in civil fines, should the water board pursue the matter further.

The letter also stated that Lehigh is in violation of a standard for erosion and sediment controls. An inspection approximately one year ago noted muddy water flowing unhindered into Permanente Creek, sedimentation ponds and traps “overwhelmed” with sediment, and “insufficient use of erosion control.” The violation could be subject to similar administrative and civil fines, according to the letter.

An attorney for the water board said the notice of violation is a way to engage the company in further information gathering. How Lehigh officials cooperate with the state will influence whether fines are pursued.

“We’re going to engage with them and try to resolve them,” said Cris Carrigan, water board counsel. "No decisions have been made either way."

In an e-mail, Lehigh’s Environmental Manager Tim Matz said, “Lehigh is conducting its own investigation of these alleged violations and hopes to work with the water board to resolve them amicably.”

Matz said the company does not comment on “ongoing legal matters” but stated that the company has been regularly conducting inspections and tests, reporting results to the water board.

However, at Tuesday’s Los Altos City Council meeting, Mayor Ron Packard said water board officials complained about the way Lehigh reports the information, buried in stacks of paperwork the agency is understaffed to sift through.

“The water board is not happy with Lehigh,” Packard told the council. Later he said that both agencies described Lehigh as “not an ideal corporate citizen. They will cut corners when they can.”

Of more immediate concern to the board, Carrigan said in an interview, is that Lehigh is not operating under the proper discharge permit. The agency wants Lehigh officials to obtain a more stringent permit commonly known as a “Sand and Gravel Permit.”

“Lehigh discharges hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons per day of unpermitted non-stormwater, which is expressly prohibited” under the company’s current permit, the notice of violation states. “Furthermore, we find that Permanente Creek is not being adequately protected under the existing permit.”

Matz said in the e-mail statement, “Several systems are in place as part of our Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) to protect the Permanente Creek, including erosion controls, a series of sedimentation basins, frequent inspections and regular water quality monitoring and testing.”

Carrigan said Lehigh officials responded quickly to the water board’s notice, denying the company had violated its permit, however acknowledging the company would pursue the Sand and Gravel Permit.

Neighboring Cities Want Independent Studies

In the meantime, Packard told the Los Altos City Council members that he wants the joint committee to continue studying Lehigh’s affect on local air and water—possibly hiring an independent expert—after meeting with water board and Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) officials.

Packard said that according to BAAQMD officials, Lehigh is emitting toxins below federal levels. They told the committee that Lehigh is pursuing the installation of equipment that will help it meet new EPA rules requiring companies to reduce mercury emissions by 95 percent starting in 2013. Packard said they were told the new equipment will cost the company $50 million.

Bill Almon of the organization Quarry No challenged the BAAQMD’s assertions at Tuesday’s council meeting. He said that while a monitoring station in Cupertino has recorded emissions lower than federal standards, Lehigh’s own reporting of emission impacts at Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos at certain times over the last three years were higher.

After hearing Packard’s report and Almon’s testimony, the Los Altos Council agreed that the joint committee should determine what specific areas an independent expert might look into, should the two cities hire one in the future. Specifically council members wanted to know if the Cupertino monitoring location at Monta Vista Park was the best location to determine emission levels.

The council also agreed to a joint hearing with the two councils, the BAAQMD and the state water board in May. Finally, the council gave Packard authority to send official letters to regulatory agencies voicing the city’s concerns.

The BAAQMD is seeking public comment by March 25 for the renewal of Lehigh’s Title V Permit with the EPA. Santa Clara County seeks comment by April 11 for a conditional use permit to dig a new 200-acre pit mine on quarry property.

On Friday, county planners announced a public meeting to discuss the use permit on Wednesday, March 30, 7-9 p.m., at the Quinlan Center, 10185 N. Stelling Rd., Cupertino.

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Title: Committee minimizes quarry health concerns: Lehigh tagged with follow-up violation for water dumping

By: Elliott Burr
Publication: Los Altos Town Crier

Posted: 03/08/2011

Despite public outcry against allegedly harmful emissions from a nearby quarry, members of a joint Los Altos-Los Altos Hills committee investigating Cupertino’s Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant determined last week that concerns might be overstated.

“The bottom line is, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of health risks involved” with the plant’s emissions, said Ron Packard, Los Altos mayor and committee member, after meeting with Bay Area Air Quality Management District and California Regional Water Quality Control Board officials.

The air district reported that Lehigh’s mercury emissions “measure at .003 to .008 parts per million – that’s a hundred times less” than what the district has deemed harmful, Packard said.

Fellow committee member Gary Waldeck, a Los Altos Hills city councilman, added that Lehigh “has a history of doing what’s best for the company. If nobody knows the answer, they make a decision to do something. That’s called doing business. Has it created any substantial health risks? The answer is, I don’t think so.”

The councilmen, responding to residents’ concerns, began assessing the cement plant’s emissions and regulatory compliance in January.

The Los Altos City Council was scheduled to meet and discuss the committee’s findings Tuesday, after the Town Crier’s press deadline.

According to a Lehigh-hired consultant, the plant, located near the border of Los Altos, emitted 337 pounds of mercury two years ago. In 2010, it issued 546 pounds, but by 2013, Lehigh officials predict emissions will decrease to 88 pounds due to new carbon-injection technology.

Vocal opposition to the plant and quarry persists – grassroots groups like No Toxic Air and locally based QuarryNo have actively campaigned against Lehigh in hopes of shutting it down or preventing plans for expansion. Members say the plant’s emissions are harmful and cancer causing.

“This is not air monitoring but only a numbers game to avoid telling the public the truth,” said Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, QuarryNo founder, with regard to Lehigh’s emissions data.

Packard and Waldeck wrote a memo stating that the air district hasn’t seen a significant difference in mercury concentrations in Cupertino compared with 30 other Bay Area cities measured.

Violations still outstanding

The water board issued a follow-up notice of violation to Lehigh Feb. 18 for the alleged unlawful dumping of “hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons per day of unpermitted stormwater” into nearby Permanente Creek, which flows to the Bay. The board had first issued notice March 26.

The notice accuses Lehigh of diverting dust suppression, wash-down and bottom water into the creek and demands the company apply for a permit that specifically governs stormwater runoff into creeks. If it doesn’t, it could be fined $10,000 per day it’s out of compliance.

Tim Matz, Lehigh’s corporate director of environmental affairs, said he believes the company has a valid permit but couldn’t comment on specifics beyond that the company is cooperating with the investigation.

To read the full notice of violation and other documents pertaining to the cement plant, visit www.southbayquarrylibrary.org.

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Title: Environmentalists meet Lafarge officials at info fair

By: Carrie Ann Knauer
Publication: Carroll County Times

Posted: 03/03/2011

UNION BRIDGE - The Maryland Department of the Environment is keeping the record open until March 9 for comments on Lehigh Cement Co.'s Title V air quality permits after holding a public hearing Wednesday night.

Both environmentally concerned residents and Lehigh employees and retirees spoke at the public hearing, which was held at the Union Bridge fire hall and had about 100 people in attendance.

Representatives from several groups, including the New Windsor Community Action Project, Friends of Frederick County, the Sierra Club and Waste Not! Carroll, spoke in support of a letter from the Environmental Integrity Project to the MDE that raised several concerns with the draft permit.

"There is insufficient monitoring," said Jennifer Peterson, of EIP. "Emissions reductions aren't going to be fully recognized unless there is sufficient monitoring so that the state and the public is able to determine whether Lehigh is actually complying with emission limits."

Judy Smith, a Union Bridge area resident, said she and other residents wanted to see the plant meet or do better than the emission limits in order to protect public health.

"We all are breathing the same air," Smith said. "I can't understand why there isn't more concern."

Smith and Dan Andrews, chairman of the local Sierra Club, both raised concerns about Lehigh using municipal solid waste as a possible alternative fuel for the cement plant in the future.

Andrews also said that while he was pleased at Lehigh's efforts to reduce mercury, and to do so ahead of federal deadlines, he urged the company to go even lower.

"Eighty-five pounds of mercury is still a significant amount," he said.

Kurt Deery, environmental engineer for the plant, reviewed the plant's efforts to reduce mercury and better monitor all of the pollution emissions regulated in the Title V permit, highlighting the technical details for MDE officials.

Chad Mullican, instrumentation supervisor for Lehigh, told the audience that Lehigh spends a lot of time making sure that its monitoring equipment is properly working.

"We run daily validation checks, they're conducted as required by federal and state authorities to ensure the accuracy of the data," Mullican said. "My department on average spends at least 26½ hours a week on analyzer preventative maintenance to ensure their functionality and accuracy."

John Keyser, a central control room operator at the plant, described the process he and other operators use to troubleshoot problems that arise during the kiln operations, and how the company responds to these problems.

"We don't wait, we react," Keyser said. "I am instructed to do at all times whatever is necessary to get us back within the guidelines."

Jan Jenkins, a resident of the Union Bridge area, said she was glad to see the people who work at Lehigh come out and support their company Wednesday night, but also encouraged them to consider the health considerations at stake as well. "We're talking about something major. We're talking about our lives and our children's lives," Jenkins said. Jenkins said she was discouraged at reading how many tons and pounds of emissions come out of the Lehigh plant, and she challenged Lehigh to do better. Jenkins asked for Lehigh to open its plant for a community tour to discuss these issues.

Tim Matz, corporate director of environmental affairs for Lehigh Hanson, Lehigh's parent company, told the audience that Lehigh would be willing to meet with concerned community members and give them a tour. "We are very transparent at this plant about what our emissions are," Matz said. "I'm very proud of this plant and its accomplishments over the last decade. I look forward to the new challenges and the accomplishments in the future."

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Title: New Website About Lehigh Cement Plant Data Made Available By Los Altos and Los Altos Hills

Fact-finding committee of City Council members place documents online for public to view.

By: L.A. Chung
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 02/18/2011

Two newly created fact-finding committees of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills city councils have jointly created a website for residents who want to look at documents and data involving the Lehigh cement quarry operations.

The South Bay Quarry Library went up late Thursday to make information available to the public when obtained or as it is submitted to its "librarian," said Gary Waldeck, Los Altos Hills Town Council member and a member of the ad-hoc committee working with the Los Altos City Council's committee.

The intent, he said, is to collect and place all of it on one site to be kept current.

Residents in both cities approached the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills councils late last year with concerns about the health issues stemming from the Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant operations.

On Feb. 8, scores of residents from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and parts of San Jose demonstrated at a public hearing held by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to determine the level of pre-existing land rights the company had, called "vested rights." Hundreds packed the board chambers, including Lehigh company employees who brought family members. Spillover crowds all closely watched closely the vote, which was unanimous in upholding the company's vested rights.

In an "Open Letter on Lehigh Quarry," the ad-hoc committee comprised of Los Altos Hills Town Councilman Gary Waldeck, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard and Councilman Dave Casas outlined the actions it intended to take.

Lehigh, known for decades as Permanente Cement, operates both mining and manufacturing of cement in the unincorporated foothills of Cupertino and is adjacent to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. It is part of the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group.

"The two ad-hoc committees have agreed to work together in a transparent, objective and unbiased effort to determine, to the best of their ability, whether the emissions from the quarry are (or are not) in compliance with imposed emissions requirements and whether the responsible enforcement agencies have performed their jobs," said the letter, signed by Town Councilman Gary Waldeck of Los Altos Hills, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard and Councilman Dave Casas.

The committee said it needed to do fact-finding because of contending assertions by residents vocally concerned about operations of the plant, and by the cement company, which insists it is in compliance.

Council members in both cities have heard assertions by citizens groups "that the quarry is operating in violation of EPA directives, that the county has not taken appropriate enforcement action on notices of violations," the open letter said, "that the quarry does not have a vested right to permit continued operations, and that the quarry is the source of a variety of Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs) that affect the health of South Bay residents."

The letter continued, "On the other hand, Lehigh Quarry officials insist that it is a responsible corporate citizen of the community, is in full compliance with all emission requirements and provides substantial benefits to the community at large."

The two communities intend to have the data reviewed independently and to take steps to install air monitoring equipment within city and town boundaries. Those actions were approved in council meetings that took place earlier this year.

Although there is an air monitoring station in Cupertino, the two cities consider its relevance for the communities "questionable due to the varying wind dispersal patterns that occur," the committee wrote.

"Qualified, independent analytical expertise is also being sought to assist in this effort."

The cities also want to work with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to change the sampling point of the water that passes through the environment as it flows to the Bay (downstream from the existing test location).

If the ad hoc committees determine that Lehigh is in compliance, the review will be concluded, the letter said.

"If the committees determine otherwise, then they will, at a minimum, insist that the county and the responsible government agencies take immediate action to resolve any deficiencies."

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Title: Lehigh Not A Sponsor For CEEF Fundraising Gala

Despite being listed as a sponsor on invitations, the longtime CEEF sponsor Lehigh Southwest Cement Company said it will not donate to the March 16 event.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 02/15/2011

Lehigh Southwest Cement will not be supporting this year’s Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation (CEEF) fundraising gala in March, despite the fact that the company has sponsored the event in the past and is prominently featured on invitations and in publicity.

The company cited a scheduling conflict with participating in the black-tie gala on March 16. In addition, Sandra James, former Cupertino mayor and Lehigh public relations and community affairs manager, said Lehigh is re-evaluating its donations for 2011, and may give money to new organizations that need money more than the educational foundation.

James also confirmed that she resigned from the CEEF board and said it was not related to Lehigh’s donation decisions, but rather to her own full schedule.

A news report in the Chinese-language World Journal on Tuesday morning, using CEEF Executive Director Minh Ngo as a source, said the nonprofit organization rejected a donation from Lehigh last week over controversy generated by the company’s cement kiln and quarry just outside of Cupertino. Ngo denies making any of the statements attributed to her in the World Journal's article.

On Feb. 8, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant Lehigh vested rights to its quarry operation, which means the company will not have to pursue new use permits on most of its land. The vote was criticized sharply by local citizen groups that oppose Lehigh’s operations.

Several parents from different schools in the Cupertino Union School District told Patch that Lehigh, in general, and the county’s decision, specifically, has become the hot topic in car-pool queues in school parking lots around the district and on a few parent and community e-mail groups.

“There was e-mail flying about how to collect signatures and how to contact the county to vote no,” said Mette Christensen, a Cupertino parent. She said she has been a part of numerous conversations in the last week with parents who are worried about mercury output at the cement plant and how they thought it might be harming their children and negatively effecting home values.

“The community at large, from what I have experienced is very much against Lehigh,” she said.

Christensen said she was uncomfortable when she received an invitation to the CEEF gala that listed Lehigh as a sponsor.

“It struck me that Lehigh was mentioned as a co-sponsor, and I found that not appropriate, because of what just happened with the county. That didn’t sit well with me.”

She said she called the CEEF office last week to complain, telling the person she spoke to, “I hope people will not show up at the event because of Lehigh being a sponsor.”

In the World Journal story, Ngo is quoted as saying, “It’s not in our interest to be involved in the disputes of this controversial issue.

” Ngo told Patch Tuesday afternoon she was misquoted and her statements were misrepresented in the World Journal story. She denied that CEEF had returned a donation to Lehigh.

“Lehigh has consistently supported education for children in Cupertino," she said. "For this year, they are weighing their options and decided not to donate to the gala. We haven’t returned any funding for this year; we haven’t received any funding for this year.”

James also denied the report. She said the company has a limited budget and that decisions need to be made as to which organizations could be most helped by its donations.

“We’re rethinking our educational resources … we haven’t finalized those discussions at the corporate level,” James said. “I can tell you, as an organization, we are very committed to education; we always have been, we always will be.”

As to stepping down from the board, James said she serves on multiple boards and that she felt CEEF was in a strong position and didn't need her services at this time. James originally served on the CEEF Advisory Board but was asked to join the board of directors because of her human resources background while CEEF was looking for a new executive director, according to both James and Ngo.

Thousands of CEEF invitations were mailed weeks ago listing Lehigh as a sponsor of the gala. As of last Friday, Lehigh was still listed on CEEF's website as an event sponsor, but James' name had been removed from the list of board members following her unexpected resignation. This week the company's name is absent.

Whether CEEF rejected a donation, or Lehigh decided not to participate for unrelated reasons, it marks a shift from a long-standing company policy to support CEEF with thousands of dollars each year, dating back to the quarry’s original owners, Kaiser.

Past community newsletters sent out by Lehigh to Cupertino neighborhoods and posted on the company’s website have prominently featured photographs of CEEF members with corporate officials, or officials participating in CEEF events, such as an annual golf tournament.

Last year CEEF partnered with the Cupertino Union School District in the fundraising campaign, “Their Future is Now!” which raised $2.5 million to keep teachers’ jobs in the face of budget cutbacks. Lehigh donated $5,000 to the campaign, according to Lehigh’s summer 2010 newsletter.

“CEEF is grateful that Lehigh continues to support the same values of excellent instruction in the Cupertino Union School District,” CEEF Board President Neil Sundstrom is quoted as saying in the newsletter. “We are pleased to accept this donation as a partner of ‘Their Future is Now!’ campaign.”

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Title: CEEF returned donation from the Lehigh cement plant; each side offers a different explanation. [Translated from Chinese]

By: Richard Lee
Publication: World Journal (Chinese)

Posted: 02/15/2011

Cupertino Endowment Education Foundation (CEEF) pointed out that due to the political controversy generated by Lehigh cement plant's new quarrying activities, they reached a verbal consensus with Lehigh last week such that CEEF will decline the donation from Lehigh for the "CEEF 2011 Gala" fund-raising campaign. The Foundation will instead seek support from other businesses.

However, Lehigh has denied that CEEF has rejected their donation. Lehigh claims that it is due to schedule conflicts that Lehigh will not be a sponsor of the CEEF 2011 Gala this year.

On February 8 the Santa Clara County Supervisors unanimously approved granting "vested right" to Lehigh to start quarrying on a new property. This allows Lehigh to mine on the property in question for at least several decades without obtaining a Use Permit from the County, based on the Supervisor's determination that Lehigh's right to non-conforming use of the property predates the County Zoning Ordinance.

Concerned that Lehigh cement plant is continuing to pollute the air quality, affect the health of residents and indirectly reduce the property value of their homes, some Cupertino residents are against the expansion plan of the cement plant. Cupertino Union School District parent Pan Hairong says, "cement plants pollute water, air and contribute to global warming, everyone is extremely worried," "It's not a good idea to take their money."

 "We are concerned that the key issue gets distracted," CEEF Executive Director Minh Ngo points out: "CEEF is focusing on fund-raising, it is not a political organization." She adds: "It is not in our interest to be involved in the disputes of this controversial issue ".

Minh Ngo says, Lehigh cement plant has made donations to CEEF in the past year from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, and sponsored large scaled fund-raising activities. However due to the expansion disputes, CEEF will not accept donation from the cement plant this year. "CEEF does not represent the parents' point of view towards Lehigh. I can only stress that CEEF is not a political organization. We do not wish that the focus of the Gala fund-raising campaign gets distracted.”

Will CEEF accept donation from CEEF in the future? Minh Ngo says it is unclear, "But Lehigh does not currently have any additional sponsorship planned."

"I do not know where you got that information," Lehigh cement plant Community Public Affairs Manager (Sandra James) points out that CEEF did not decline their donation. "We donated money to the 2010 Gala last year and sponsored a table. But this year due to schedule conflicts with Lehigh's own internal activities, we can not offer a sponsorship.” James says there never was a consensus on this year's donation, "This is wrong information. However Lehigh has supported education in the past and will continue to care about education in the future.”

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Title: Fisher: An uphill battle for cement plant opponents

By: Patty Fisher
Publication: Mercury News

Posted: 02/11/2011

The folks who worry about the impact of living near the Lehigh Cement plant in the Cupertino hills call it a "big, dirty secret."

"Lehigh has been polluting for years," says Hoi Yung Poon, a vocal member of the grass-roots group No Toxic Air. "And no one wants to talk about it."

I'd say Poon is two-thirds right. The sprawling quarry and cement-making operation off Stevens Creek Boulevard definitely are big. Lehigh produces more than 70 percent of the cement used in Santa Clara County and half the cement used in the Bay Area.

And the plant certainly is dirty, emitting dust and toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic into the air each day.

But secret? That's where Poon and her colleagues lose me. If you live in the South Bay, you can't miss the bright lights of the cement plant as you drive north on Interstate 280 from San Jose. Over the years, the pollution from the plant on the 3,500-acre property has spawned a series of grass-roots protests. Each time, the larger community has come to the same conclusion: The plant is necessary to the area's growth, and the levels of pollution are not high enough to pose a serious threat.

That didn't deter hundreds of residents of Cupertino, Los Altos Hills and the surrounding area who showed up this week at the Santa Clara County supervisors meeting to protest the Lehigh plant.

A show of strength

The hearing wasn't about emissions, however. The topic was Lehigh's vested right to continue its quarry operations, and the supervisors voted unanimously in favor of Lehigh. But the protesters saw it as an opportunity to show their anger and strength to their elected officials.

"We're worried," said Poon, a San Jose mom whose first-grade son attends school in the Cupertino Union School District. She honed her grass-roots organizing skills last year during a campaign that raised $2.2 million in eight weeks to help stave off teacher layoffs in the district. Now she has focused those skills -- and the parent community -- on cement. She's worried that mercury from the plant is causing autism and cancer, though there are no local studies yet to back her up. "It's hard to prove," she says. "We definitely need more community leaders from Silicon Valley to step up and do something about it. This is an urban area."

The problem is that the plant was here long before this was an urban area. The quarry operations date nearly to 1900 and the cement plant opened in 1937, before orchards gave way to housing tracts.

Years of ranting

I remember a group called RANT -- Residents Against Noisy Trucks -- that ranted in 1993 about noise and dust from cement trucks going back and forth to the plant all night long. Now the issue is mercury, a metal that is naturally concentrated in the ground here.

Mercury mining was big business back in the 1800s. Why do you think this paper is called the Mercury News? (I know, you thought it was named for our fleet-footed paperboys of old.) Mercury is a poison, but the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which monitors the plant emissions, says they don't exceed what is considered safe. If the plant were to close, we would have to truck in cement from hundreds of miles, which would create even more pollution and wear-and-tear on our roads.

The EPA plans to impose new standards by 2013, and plant officials say they will be able to meet them, even though it will mean cutting mercury emissions more than 90 percent.

Tim Matz, Lehigh's director of environmental affairs, says he's confident the company will be able to meet the new EPA requirement with a technology that uses activated carbon to capture the mercury and remove it from the air.

"After our pilot study," he said, "we are pretty confident that we can meet the new standard."

Will that be enough for Poon and the other Cupertino parents? She would like to see the plant shuttered but knows she has her work cut out for her.

"I don't know if it's realistic to try to close the plant down," she told me.

"Lehigh is powerful and they know how to play the game."

They do indeed. But now the neighbors are learning how to play, too.

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Title: Cemex to pay $2M for pollution controls

By: Unknown Dayton Daily News reporter
Publication: AggregateResearch.com

Posted: 02/11/2011

(Greene County) -- CEMEX Inc. will pay a $1.4 million penalty for Clean Air Act violations at its site near Fairborn. In addition, Cemex will spend about $2 million on pollution controls.

Those controls are designed to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), pollutants that can lead to childhood asthma, acid rain, and smog.

The agreement was announced Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Justice Department.

“Emissions of harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can lead to a number of serious health and environmental problems, including premature death and heart disease,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Today’s settlement will help keep harmful air pollution out of Ohio communities, protect children with asthma and prevent region-wide public health problems.”

The $1.4 million penalty will be distributed, with $932,400 going to the United States, $233,800 to the state of Ohio ($46,760 designated for Ohio EPA’s Clean Diesel School Bus Program Fund) and $233,800 going to the Ohio Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.

“Through this action, the United States and Ohio will secure reductions of harmful emissions by requiring that Cemex adopt state-of-the-art technology and take immediate steps to control pollutants,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

“As in the case of other Portland cement plants that have agreed to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act, the Cemex plant has been a major source of air pollution, and this settlement will result in a healthier environment for residents of Fairborn, Ohio and the surrounding region.”?

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Title: Board of Supervisors says century-old quarry in Cupertino still has vested rights

By: Matt Wilson
Publication: Cupertino Courier

Posted: 02/09/2011

At a packed hearing to help guide future decisions about land use by Lehigh Permanente Quarry, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously agreed that operators of had "vested rights" for numerous parcels on its site in unincorporated Cupertino.

The decision will allow the quarry to continue business as usual on parts of 2,656 acres of property without the need for most county issued use-permits.

Mining and quarrying on the site dates back to the early 1900s, long before Santa Clara County had its first zoning ordinance in 1937. The county has long said that portions where the quarry operated predated county regulations and were grandfathered and thus did not require use-permits. The board of supervisor's hearing was held to determine whether and to what extent the quarry had a legal non-conforming use for surface mining activities.

The Permanente Quarry is a limestone and aggregate mining operation in the Santa Clara County foothills located just beyond the borders of incorporated Cupertino. The mine has a single large pit where limestone and aggregate are excavated.

The meat of the hearing was to determine to what degree mining occurred on some parcels before county enforcement occurred. Lehigh officials argued that even if mining was not being done explicitly in one parcel, that there was still other uses like transportation roads, administrative offices and storage space. It was argued that these uses were integral to the overall quarrying process. Lehigh officials used aerial photographic evidence from multiple decades showing various activity related to mining on the parcels.

The decision Tuesday did not grant any land use authorization, however the decision will guide the process for future consideration of land use approvals on the site, according to county staff. Determining which parcels remain grandfathered will help the quarry and county determine which parts of the property will require a use-permit.

Residents packed the board of supervisors chambers, forcing a second meeting room to be opened where the proceeding were televised. More than 100 speaker cards were filled out and public comment lasted approximately two hours. There was an even split between Lehigh supporters and opponents during the public hearing. Lehigh employees quickly filled up the seating leaving many residents standing along the side. 

A rally was held by dozens of residents outside Santa Clara County offices along Hedding Street. Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang led chants with a bullhorn while residents carried signs protesting the cement facility and quarry.

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Title: Quarry Vote Favors Cement Plant Rights—And Portends More Citizen Action

Land use rights win over public pressure to require tougher oversight of Lehigh Southwest Cement.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 02/09/2011

Part courtroom procedural, part political theater, Tuesday’s county public hearing over "vested rights" for the quarry owned by the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group provided plenty of drama.

There were protesters in surgical masks, company employees bused in to fill the chamber and dramatic pronouncements from speakers on both sides that the county's decision would mean either the population would be poisoned or jobs would be killed.

And while the curtain closed that night on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voting unanimously in favor of the cement company, another curtain will surely rise on future drama between the company and opposition citizen groups.

“The bottom line is that we can't sit back and do nothing, the stakes are too high for all of us; we need to protect our health, family and environment,” read a statement from No Toxic Air leaders to its members in an e-mail on Wednesday.

The Chinese characters for “crisis,” they said, “means danger and opportunity. We see opportunity moving forward.”

The board ruled in favor of "vested rights" —a legal term which means Lehigh can use the land under rules in place at the time mining began. The original owner, Henry Kaiser, began mining operations in 1939. The supervisors, in fact, granted vested rights to the company beyond the area county staff recommended.

In practicality, the board’s decision means Lehigh will not have to apply for new land-use permits on 13 of 19 parcels it owns on unincorporated land in the foothills adjacent to Cupertino and Los Altos borders. Using a staff report citing 1948 as the year the county first required a use permit for quarrying, the board grandfathered all parcels purchased before that year. Staff had recommended recognizing rights only to the parcels where mining or exploration had definitively occurred already.

A proposed 200-acre pit mine in a parcel south of those grandfathered areas is on land purchased in later years, which means Lehigh will have to seek a new use permit for that mine. The matter is expected to come before supervisors later this year in fall or early winter, according to county staff.

Separately, there is the renewal of a reclamation plan for the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA), a piece of land near Rancho San Antonio County Park that is used for dumping of unused quarried rock. That could come before the supervisors this summer.

“We’re pleased that the county of Santa Clara has reaffirmed once again our right to mine the property, and we look forward to working with our neighbors on the reclamation plan amendment,” said Marvin Howell, Lehigh’s director of land use planning, on Wednesday.

Howell disputed contentions made by opponents during the hearing that future mining activities on grandfathered parcels will not face more environmental scrutiny.

“That’s clearly not the case,” he said, adding that projects such as the EMSA reclamation plan, “are subject to the most stringent environmental review under California law.”

Supervisors heard similar statements from county staff, and leaned on those assurances in part to make their decision.

The key to the board’s decision, however, was a 1996 California Supreme Court case, Hansen Brothers Enterprises Inc. vs. Board of Supervisors of Nevada County. The court ruled that a miner has vested rights to extract minerals from the miner’s entire property, as long as the miner proves intent to mine the property from when the land was originally purchased.

The lead counsel in that landmark case, Mark Harrison, was Lehigh’s attorney at Tuesday’s hearing. Harrison laid out a case before supervisors that the quarry’s original owner, Henry Kaiser, intended to eventually mine his entire property.

Board president Dave Cortese, representing District 3, and District 5 Supervisor Liz Kniss, questioned county lawyers at length about the case and its implications on the Lehigh property.

County staff members had placed a boundary around the areas where they said they could show there had been mining, or intent to mine, which included portions of parcels.

The recommendation was to grant vested rights within those boundaries. Instead, supervisors granted rights to entire parcels.

It was a disappointing decision for Quarry No founder Bill Almon of Los Altos Hills.

“The impact of this is huge,” he said. “I don’t think (the supervisors) realize what they were giving up.”

Despite the assurances by staff that future activities will include reclamation plans and environmental reviews, Almon called those measures weak compared with land-use permits, which he claimed gives government more regulatory control.

Also disappointed was Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang, who led a protest outside of the county headquarters before the hearing and passionately addressed the board—to some low “boos” from Lehigh supporters in the audience.

Chang said he and his group, No Toxic Air, had asked that their attorneys be given the same amount of time to address the board as Lehigh’s attorney, 15 minutes. The request was denied, leaving members one minute apiece to speak.

Their goal, Chang said, was to point to other court cases that they believe allow government bodies to rule against vested rights when there is potential harm to the public involved. It was why members pointed over and over again to possible harm from mercury and other toxins emitted by the plant. 

“The Board of Supervisors just brushed it off; they just ignored it,” Chang said Wednesday.

Chang said No Toxic Air’s leadership is now considering the next course of action, which could include challenging the board’s decision in court, or possibly seeking a referendum on the issue before voters.

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Title: Quarry has vested rights, county rules

Land use rights win over public pressure to require tougher oversight of Lehigh Southwest Cement.

By: Elliott Burr
Publication: Los Altos Town Crier

Posted: 02/08/2011

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday evening that Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant, located in unincorporated county land near Cupertino and Los Altos, maintains a vested right to operate certain portions of its several-thousand-acre facility purchased before 1948. The notion had been hotly debated among local opposition and cement plant officials, both of whom attended the standing-room only hearing.

The ruling means the 100-year-old mining company will not have to apply for a use permit on those portions of land, which could have brought it into modern-day compliance. Instead it will hold a legal non-conforming use designation, otherwise known as being "grandfathered."

The company's cement plant already has a use permit for its operations, supervisors noted.

"Vested rights doesn't mean it can break the law," said District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman, echoing one Lehigh supporter who spoke during the public hearing. "Any approval by the county is subject to compliance by the applicant to state and federal regulations."

In recognizing grandfathered rights, supervisors acknowledged that the whole property had been mined consistently since the 1930s. While there had been a transfer of ownership on one part of the land in the late 40s, supervisors said activity, including material transport, and intent to mine on the land hadn't been abandoned.

"What the county did ... was to once again certify that our use on those parcels was legally nonconforming," Lehigh's land use specialist Marvin Howell said in an interview Wednesday. "We look forward to working with the public on our (comprehensive) reclamation plan."

A separate hearing on the cement company's plans to expand mining operations to a new mining pit south of its existing quarry is scheduled for some time this spring and summer, District 5 Supervisor Liz Kniss said. The quarry will need to seek a use permit for that because, according to Howell, the company does not currently have a legal nonconforming use for areas slated for expansion.

"All the supes did was kick the can down the road," said Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, founder of watchdog group QuarryNo, after Tuesday's hearing. "With vesting, the county gave away its ability to monitor (the facility). ... the problems are still there."

The Environmental Protection Agency last year accused Lehigh of violating parts of the Clean Air Act, stemming from equipment changes made in the late 90s that allegedly increased sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions. Lehigh officials said they would work to assess the violation.

Since then, the company announced it had reduced mercury emissions by 25 percent and had plans to implement new technology to further reduce it. Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling said the actions would bring it into compliance with more stringent EPA regulations.

Still, opponents remain concerned about mercury, benzene, arsenic and chromium emissions.

Lehigh officials said the facility is regulated by several state and federal agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which has said the facility doesn't exceed federally-advised public notification thresholds. Quarry officials reported last year that the plant emitted more than 300 pounds of mercury.

An environmental impact report regarding a material storage area on the property is scheduled to be released in 40 to 60 days, Howell said.

Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard and councilman David Casas and newly-elected Los Altos Hills Councilman Gary Waldeck are currently in the process of gathering information about the quarry and cement plant's emissions. Waldeck said the county's ruling doesn't affect the councilmen's fact-finding initiative, which is largely focused on the environmental and health impacts of the facility.

Ed Reed, who spoke in opposition to the facility at the hearing, said, "if there's anything that's grandfathered, it's the right to breathe fresh air."

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Title: County Supervisors Unanimously Vote in Favor of Quarry Land Rights

Land use rights win over public pressure to require tougher oversight of Lehigh Southwest Cement.

By: Pam Marinot
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 02/08/2011

In a major win for the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday evening in favor of "vested rights" for the majority of the company's mining operations at the Permanente quarry, despite calls from dozens of residents to limit or deny those rights.

The vote means that Lehigh will not have to apply for new land use permits for future mining operations on 13 of 19 parcels it owns in the foothills near Cupertino and Los Altos. However, the company does have to file what are called reclamation plans for any future activities.

Supervisors heard from more than 100 speakers on both sides of the issue. Lehigh employees packed the chambers, leaving most residents who were speaking against the the company standing in the back of the room or sitting in a nearby meeting room with a direct video feed.

While opponents to vested rights argued that stricter environmental oversight of Lehigh's operations in the foothills was needed, the supervisors noted that any proposed mining activities—including a new 200-acre pit mine under consideration later this year—will still have to undergo environmental review, even with vested rights.

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Title: Hundreds Turn Out at Public Hearing on Lehigh Cement Plant's Proposed Operations

Dozens of anti-mine demonstrators held signs saying 'No Vested Rights,' 'No Mercury,' 'No More Dust,' at a hearing today at the county supervisors meeting.

By: Anne Ernst
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 02/08/2011

Editor's note: Public testimony began at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, during which Dave Cortese, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, announced that speaker cards—of which 119 were turned in—would be drawn on a random basis. Before the meeting began, officials thought speaker cards would be divided between those for and against the matter. Read more about the hearing here. 

Chants of “No Mercury,” stung the air during a demonstration Tuesday in front of the Santa Clara County Administration Building as dozens of demonstrators carrying signs circled the sidewalk to protest a proposed 200-acre mine pit by the Lehigh Cement Plant.

The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors is holding an evidentiary hearing on the use of land at the Lehigh Cement Plant, which is in unincorporated Santa Clara County, nestled between both Cupertino and Los Altos, where Lehigh wants to dig a new mine.

The plant uses a Cupertino address. 

Demonstrators argue that mercury and other pollutants already spread in the air and waterways because of the existing mines and object to a new pit being dug.

“We’ve been trying to get pollution reduced (in the area) since 1996,” said JoyceM Eden, a Cupertino resident who is a member of West Valley Citizens Air Watch.

“They’ve run out of lime in the quarry and want to blast a new 200-acre open pit in the oak woodland," she said. "They’ll create a dead zone. When they’re done, there’s nothing.”

The argument of pollution and health concerns is lost on some. Cupertino resident Mike McNutt said he worked at the plant for 16 years when it was operated by Kaiser.

"I'm 74, and there's nothing wrong with me," he said.

Eden was joined by dozens of demonstrators led by Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang, who said he was losing his voice leading the chants. He said the chamber seats were already filled long before the meeting was scheduled to begin.

“They must have all the workers in there," Chang said. "They must have shut down for the day.”

The chamber seats began filling with Lehigh executives, employees, former employees and other supporters at around noon for the 1:30 p.m. meeting, according to Melissa Miller, deputy clerk of the board.

As anti-mine demonstrators poured in and there were no open seats, they were left to stand in the back of the room.

When the room filled to beyond capacity, the walkways choked, prompting safety officials to instruct those in the path to leave the room. An ancillary room with a live feed of the hearing was opened down the hall from the chambers.

Ten minutes before the afternoon meeting was to start, about 100 speaker cards had been filled out, according to Miller, who added that some speaker cards were being filled out as early as 9 a.m.

As people filled out the cards, she asked them to state whether they were for or against the mine, because speakers would be divided and called up according to their position. They would be given one minute each to speak, but she said it was unclear how many speakers the supervisors would hear.

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Title: Two Major Opportunities For Public to Weigh in on Lehigh Cement Plant

A public hearing on Feb. 8 at the county level and a written comment period to the air quality district is now open until March 25 give residents a chance to voice opinions.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 02/04/2011

A chorus of voices has been raising questions in recent months about whether or not the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant follows government-mandated rules, and now the public has two formal opportunities to chime in.

The first opportunity is a long-awaited public hearing before the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to determine a major land use issue at 1:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 8, in the board chambers at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

The second opportunity is through submitting written comments to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) by March 25 about the renewal of a permit that regulates air emissions coming from Lehigh's operations.

Board of Supervisors to Determine “Vested Rights”

The battle over the cement plant and quarry located in the foothills next to Cupertino heats up significantly Tuesday, when the Supervisors may decide in an evidentiary hearing if Lehigh, owned by Heidelberg Cement, has the right to mine its land without new permits.

The citizen group No Toxic Air is planning a rally before the hearing at 1 p.m. outside of the county’s headquarters to garner support for its contention that Lehigh does not have what are called “vested rights” to mine on 2,656 acres of its property.

“We absolutely want the board to rule ‘no,’ they don’t have vested rights on portions of this land, and that they absolutely need to go through the permitting process if they want to use this land,” said Paula Wallis, one of the leaders of No Toxic Air.

Lehigh officials contend that because previous owners of the land have been conducting mining operations there since the early 20th Century, it does have vested rights, and can operate under existing land use permits.

“For over 70 years the county of Santa Clara has over and over again indicated that the site was a vested mining site, and that includes three thorough land use reviews,” said Marvin Howell, Lehigh’s director of land use planning and permitting. “At no time did the county ever indicate that the site was not vested.”

Howell said the company is confident that the historical record will back up its claim.

The major sticking point for Lehigh's opponents?

Some believe that if the supervisors grant vested rights to most of Lehigh’s property, the company will not have to apply for new permits, requiring new environmental impact reports. That's only partly true. While no new use permits would be required with vested rights, county Senior Planner Gary Rudholm said that Lehigh would have to submit reclamation plans, which would include environmental review. The California Environmental Quality Act requires the lead agency to conduct environmental review of the potential environmental impacts of a proposed reclamation plan, just as it requires this type of review for a use permit, Rudholm said.

Leaders of citizen groups opposing vested rights are already unhappy with the continued dumping of unused quarry rock in one area of the company's land, called the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA).

Originally a hearing was scheduled for last November to consider vested rights just for EMSA. The hearing was postponed until February for more study by county planners.

Now, vested rights needed to be considered for nearly all of Lehigh's land, not just EMSA, in light of the upcoming land use issue over a new pit mine, according to a fact sheet provided by planners on the county's website.

Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang announced at Tuesday's Council meeting that should supervisors vote in favor of Lehigh having vested rights, No Toxic Air, of which he's a part, will immediately begin gathering voters' signatures for a ballot referendum to overturn the decision.

BAAQMD Seeking Input for Emissions Permit Renewal

There is also the question of emissions. Just what, and how much Lehigh’s cement kiln emits into the Santa Clara County air is a looming issue.

Like all major manufacturing facilities in the United States, Lehigh is required to obtain a permit with the Environmental Protection Agency under Title V of the 1990 Clean Air Act. The BAAQMD administers the permit, which covers emissions limits and standards, monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

A five-year permit was granted to the facility in 2003. As Lehigh and BAAQMD wound their way through the 2008 renewal process, new equipment rules required by the agency lengthened the process. Then, early last year, the agency withdrew the permit, because of new EPA emissions rules that would be enacted later in 2010.

The new rules require Lehigh to reduce its mercury emissions by 90 percent by the year 2013, according to BAAQMD documents. Lehigh officials said they are well on their way to meeting those requirements with the installation of new high tech equipment.

Now that the new mercury rules are in place, the BAAQMD restarted the permitting process, which includes collecting public comments.

Opponents, like organizers of No Toxic Air and Quarry No, have been contending during public hearings at recent city council meetings in Cupertino, Los Altos Hills and Los Altos, that they are concerned whether the BAAQMD's oversight has been adequate.

In turn, the city councils of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have recently launched ad hoc committees to study air and water quality issues, as well as land use issues.

Anyone interested in submitting comments can do so by directing them to Thu Bui, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco, 94109, or by e-mail to tbui@baaqmd.gov. Bui’s phone number is 415-749-5119.

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Title: NY Cement Factory Singled Out as Source of Mercury Pollution

By: Molly Mann
Publication: Change.org

Posted: 01/31/2011

 Thanks to Jeremy Piven, we all know that if you eat too much of mercury-carrying fish, you'll run into health problems. But a recent study by the Harvard University School of Public Health suggests that simply abstaining from sushi isn't enough to protect ourselves from this potent neurotoxin.

The study, which was initiated by Community Advocates for Safe Emissions (CASE), found that of the 172 people sampled in the Ravena, New York community, one in 10 had mercury levels so high they needed to see a doctor immediately. But according to Michael Bank, the researcher who led the study, local fish consumption accounted for only 15 percent of the elevated mercury cases in adults. Might a more probable explanation be the Lafarge cement plant, the state's second-largest emitter of airborne mercury?

That's what the founders of CASE want to know. The group was started by Elyse Kunz and Elyse Griffin, Ravena residents who came together out of shared concern over the environmental pollution caused by the cement plant. After behavioral problems at school, tests revealed that Griffin's son had high levels mercury, prompting further investigation into the emissions.

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers elevated mercury levels to be five parts per billion (ppb) or higher. Average mercury blood levels across the country for women ages 16-49 ranges from .8 and 1 ppb and between 1.3 and 2.3 ppb for children. (No men were included in the Ravena study.) Anyone with a level above 5 ppb would be advised to see their doctor immediately, said Bank, who also added that 10 percent of the Ravena study participants had such high levels.

"Our study does not explain the source of this mercury," said Bank, but a probable culprit is the Lafarge cement plant, a 3,200-acre factory that has operated since 1962. Mercury is present in some of the materials -- limestone and coal fly ash waste -- that Lafarge uses to make cement, and the two high-temperature kilns used in the plant are fired by coal, which also contains mercury. According to New York state estimates, Lafarge emitted approximately 167 pounds of mercury in 2009 and nearly 400 pounds annually from 2003 to 2006.

Mercury accumulates in the body, which is why adults have higher levels than children. In adults, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mercury may cause several types of tumors. The EPA also states that developing fetuses who are exposed to mercury in the womb are at high risk for delays in cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor, visual, and spatial skills.

The Lafarge plans to modernize their Ravena plant this year, but their history of fighting for looser mercury emissions is particularly concerning for the community's health. Due to residents' demands and the efforts of CASE, the New York State Department of Health is completing a public health assessment for communities near the Lafarge cement plant. Sign our petition letting the Department of Health know that they need to adequately address the role of the cement factory on citizen's health and move toward legislation to cap industrial mercury emissions.

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Title: Commentary: Residents respond to Cupertino's Lehigh Cement plant manager

By: Rod Sinks and Paula Wallis
Publication: Cupertino Courier

Posted: 01/27/2011

Editor's note: This opinion piece is in response to a column by Henrik Wesseling, plant manager at Lehigh Southwest Cement in Cupertino, titled "Plant manager offers perspective on Lehigh Cement" (Jan. 21, Opinion).

Lehigh Permanente Cement Plant and Quarry (owned by Heidelberg Cement of Germany) is supposed to be highly regulated. However, in his recent commentary, plant manager Henrik Wesseling fails to acknowledge that Lehigh has a long history of elevated mercury emissions and regulatory violations for air, water, land and labor issues. It must not be permitted to operate in this way at the expense of the health and well being of Silicon Valley residents.

At least two studies (Windham and Palmer) provide compelling reasons to reduce mercury emissions. First, children with autism are about 50 percent more likely to have been born in an area with hazardous air pollutants; and second, for each 1,000 pounds of environmentally released mercury, there is an average of a 43 percent increase in the rate of special education services and a 61 percent increase in the rate of autism.

The Cupertino cement plant currently releases mercury, a neurotoxin, at about 10 times the EPA's mandated new limits and, according to EPA data, is one of the top sources of mercury emissions among all cement plants operating in the U.S. and the only active cement plant in the nation that doesn't have a central stack, preventing effective emissions monitoring and control.

The unusually high levels of mercury in the local limestone creates the vexing problem of how to remove it to comply with the new EPA rules scheduled to go into effect in 2013. According to the EPA, in 2005 Lehigh emitted 1,284 pounds of mercury into our air. Under the new rules, it will have to limit emissions to less than 100 pounds per year. The EPA also says that the most effective approach to addressing mercury emissions from cement kilns is to avoid using raw materials with elevated mercury content.

Mr. Wesseling says Lehigh is committed to meeting the new EPA limits at the Cupertino facility; however, at a Dec. 21 Cupertino City Council meeting, he conceded, "What we have to accomplish here is to implement brand-new technology, which is not out there in the market." In addition, these new EPA regulations are being legally challenged by the Portland Cement Association, of which Lehigh is a major member.

Some may believe that having a local source of cement, which comprises an 11 percent fractional component of concrete, is vital to the Bay Area's economy. But cement should not come from a quarry with unusually high levels of mercury, particularly one located directly adjacent to a major metropolitan area (most other high-emissions plants are located in rural, low- population areas).

Check the facts about the facility on the websites of Santa Clara County and the city of Cupertino, or find a listing of the plant's violations at www.NoToxicAir.org. Violations include: a March 2010 EPA notice of violation stating that the Lehigh cement plant has been operating without a valid Clean Air Act permit since 1996; 24 Bay Area Air Quality Management District violations in four years, five still pending; and 11 Bay Area Regional Quality Control Board violations in 2010.

In addition, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued 185 citations and 21 orders at Lehigh in 2010, 60 percent of which were significant and substantial violations. So while Lehigh does provide local employment to less than 200 people, its quarry is on the MSHA's list of operations that "merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history" (visit www.msha.gov/media/PRESS/2010/NR101221.asp).

Now the company plans to obtain "vested rights" to mine 2,656 acres of its 3,600-acre property from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, a designation that would greatly reduce the power of the county and other government agencies to further regulate and oversee Lehigh's mining operations. A county staff report makes a strong case against vested rights, and we urge the board of supervisors to reject Lehigh's efforts to circumvent the regulatory process.

For more information, visit www.NoToxicAir.org and www.QuarryNo.com. The Santa Clara County public hearing on Lehigh's vested rights takes place on Feb. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the east wing of the county building, 70 W. Hedding St.

Rod Sinks and Paula Wallis are members of NoToxicAir.com.

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Title: Los Altos Council Approves Cement Plant Fact-Finding Committee

The Los Altos City Council will consider asking for air and water quality stations, special committee and more to examine the Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant and Quarry.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 01/26/2011

Is the Lehigh cement plant in Cupertino following the rules or not?

That's what the Los Altos City Council wants to know—and members said Tuesday they're not content to let Santa Clara County watch out for Los Altans' health and welfare.

“No agenda, just the facts, discerning what’s important in how we can preserve the well-being of our community from an operation that happens to be outside of our community,” Councilman David Casas said Tuesday night.

The City Council members voted unanimously to form a committee to study whether Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant, on the other side of Rancho San Antonio County Park, is negatively affecting the air and water of Los Altos.

Dozens of residents in the last few months have visited Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino city councils to complain that the Lehigh cement plant and quarry–the only operation of its type in the country near a heavily populated urban area—are not being adequately regulated by the county and regulatory agencies such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

The vote gives city staff the go-ahead to collect data from the many regulatory agencies that have oversight of the plant. The city will request the installation of air- and water-monitoring stations within the city’s borders to track what’s coming from the plant.

In addition, the ad hoc committee of Mayor Ron Packard and Casas will share information with a similar committee organized recently by the Los Altos Hills City Council. It authorized a $25,000 account for the city attorney to pursue the matter.

“It’s important we go through a very balanced, very thorough understanding of what is and what is not being done, what has, and what hasn’t been accomplished,” Casas said of the committee. “Are they (Lehigh) following the rules, or are they not?”

The plant has several outstanding Notices of Violation from the county, the BAAQMD, the EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. To date, no fines have been levied against the plant, which is being given time to correct the notices.

Residents say they worry that aside from the violations, the plant is emitting mercury and other toxins into the air and water through Permanente Creek. They question whether government regulations are enough to protect the 1.8 million residents of the county.

A handful of citizen watchdog groups have sprouted up to protest Lehigh’s operations, including Quarry No, in Los Altos Hills and No Toxic Air in Cupertino. Leaders boast hundreds of members in the groups. Tuesday night Casas credited Quarry No founder Bill Almon with bringing the issue to the attention of the Los Altos City Council.

Another concern raised, not only by residents but also by council members in both Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, is whether county officials are trying to protect Lehigh because of tax monies that flow from there into county coffers.

“I don’t believe in conspiracy, but I also don’t believe in stifling discussion," Casas said. "And I know for a fact that board members for the county have called elected officials in the adjoining communities to dissuade them from having this discussion. I find that offensive. I believe there is a financial obligation that we need to examine.”

Said Packard, “I am concerned about the financial benefit to the county and possible bias.”

Several residents from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino addressed council members Tuesday night in support of the investigative committee.

Absent from the meeting were any representatives from Lehigh, who have been on hand at council meetings in Los Altos Hills and Cupertino in recent months.

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Title: Council Weighs Heavier Involvement in Cement Plant Issue

Unanimous vote will launch committee to investigate effects of local plant on air and water in Los Altos.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 01/25/2011

The Los Altos City Council will consider taking a larger step to solve some issues involving Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant at its meeting Tuesday night.

City Attorney Jolie Houston will recommend that the council take six actions at the 7 p.m. meeting in the Council Chambers at 1 N. San Antonio Rd.:

  1. Direct city staff and/or the city attorney to gather information from regulatory agencies that have authority over the Lehigh plant and quarry.

  2. Appoint Mayor Ron Packard and Councilman David Casas as an ad hoc council committee regarding the issue.

  3. If the ad hoc committee is appointed, direct it to share information with the Los Altos Hills City Council.

  4. Request an air-quality monitoring station be installed in Los Altos to measure emissions from the plant.

  5. Request a water-quality monitoring station be installed along Permanente Creek within th city’s borders.

  6. Designate the issue as a city attorney special project in an amount not to exceed $25,000.

The council voted on Nov. 9, 2010, for Houston to begin researching the issue, after hearing concerns from residents and a local citizens group that the cement plant and quarry are not being adequately regulated by Santa Clara County and other regulatory agencies, such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

In its vote, the council also directed Casas, who was mayor at the time, to write a letter to the county Board of Supervisors to share “grave concerns” about the possible negative impacts on the health of Los Altos residents from Lehigh operations, located in unincorporated county land just south of the city.

There are several major issues involving the cement kiln and quarry, including land use, how much mercury is being emitted into the valley’s air and whether the operations are in compliance with water-quality regulations.

One of the biggest issues is whether Lehigh, owned by Heidelberg Cement, has what are known as “vested rights” to expand its quarry operations. Specifically, Lehigh officials want to be able to continue dumping unused quarried rock on one of Lehigh's parcels, and they want to dig a new, 200-acre pit to replace the current pit, which is reaching depletion.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on vested rights at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 8, in the Supervisors’ Chambers at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

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Title: Harvard to present heavy metals test results

By: Hilary Hawke (Hudson-Catskill Newspapers)
Publication: Register-Star

Posted: 12/31/2010

Dr. Michael Bank, principal investigator for the Harvard School of Public Health's study of heavy metals in people within a ten-mile radius of the Ravena Lafarge Cement Plant will present group results at 8 p.m. on January 6 at the RCS High School on route 9W.

Individual results will be released at a later date.

Harvard tested blood and hair of 185 individuals on May 15 and 16, 2010 at Pieter B. Coeymans Elementary School in Ravena.

Participation was voluntary.

The study was sparked by a request from CASE (Community Advocates for Safe Emissions) co-founders Elyse Griffins and Elyse Kunz.

The January 6, 2011 meeting will include a presentation and a question and answer period.

Bank became interested in the topic when Griffin approached him after a February, 2009 lecture at SUNY Albany called “Mercury in the Environment: Patterns and Process."

His own research into available data suggested the region might provide a promising venue for scientific investigation including a potentially “classic public-health-exposed population.”

While initial sample collection focused on the Ravena area, Bank said he is also interested in industries besides Lafarge which could have a potential impact on pollution in the environment including GE, Callanan Industries and Owens-Corning.

Bank has conducted environmental studies in other states including Washington, Tennessee, Maine and Vermont and his work on mercury emissions has led to legislative policy.

The NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) approved a grant application for Harvard to study Ravena in late fall of 2009.

Kunz said she is looking forward to hearing Harvard's results with mixed curiosity and dread.

"We want to know the truth about the Lafarge emissions," she said. "But I'm fearful they will announce findings of high levels of toxins."

Kunz also criticized the NYS DOH ( Department of Health) which recently released a Public Comment Draft Phase One Report evaluating the impact of the Lafarge Cement Plant emissions on community health.

Phase Two is underway and should be completed during 2011.

"The DOH has not been helpful in enabling CASE to get hard scientific data," Kunz said. "As far as I'm concerned, their Phase One report was meaningless. It was long, complicated, highly politicized and bureaucratic."

Kunz said she feels the Harvard study is more accurate and relevant than the one released by the DOH.

Griffin echoed Kunz's sentiments.

"We're frustrated the DOH has not yet collected any data but we're happy we're finally going to see some real scientific work from Harvard," she said.

CASE came into existence in late 2008 when Griffin, Kunz and several other area residents began comparing notes and wondering if their health problems might have been caused, contributed to or aggravated by fifty years of cement plant production at the current Lafarge site.

Griffin's son had been tested for heavy metals and showed higher than normal levels of lead and mercury.

Kunz had been suffering from various respiratory ailments including sinus infections, asthma and allergies.

Others attending the first meeting at a Selkirk home had similar problems and all wondered why.

CASE has spearheaded many activities over the past two years including setting up a meeting of environmental groups at the Governor's Office in early 2008.

"We all had concerns about the Lafarge Plant," Griffin said.

Griffin, who moved from Ravena to Albany several years ago said her son is now in elementary school and functioning well in his class.

"He's in the first grade and is doing wonderfully," she said. "I will never know for sure what caused his symptoms."

Griffin said his treatment includes dietary restrictions and supplements.

In response to CASE's criticism the DOH is not doing their job, Director of Public Affairs Claudia Hutton, said, "We understand their frustration but the DOH has protocols in place. We adhere to high scientific standards. We do not change science to adapt to community anger."

"We have a cooperative relationship with the Harvard School of Public Health and we look forward to reviewing the results of their studies."

Hutton pointed out the NYS DOH has been investigating environmental issues since the Niagara Falls Love Canal incident in the 1970's and said the department has been open and honest about what they do.

Not everyone in the community feels there is an established link between health problems and the cement plant. While CASE has roughly 400 members, the population of Ravena, Coeymans, Selkirk and New Baltimore is close to 18,000.

At one recent DOH meeting at the RCS High School, a longtime Ravena resident pointed out that pollution could just as well be coming from the thruway and other industry instead of just Lafarge.

CASE counters that Lafarge was one of the nation's heaviest mercury producers in 2007 and a recent EPA report named it in the top fifteen of New York State polluters.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin known to cause health problems in tiny amounts.

Lafarge recently secured a DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) Title Five Air Permit to continue operating its current cement plant and is applying for another for its proposed modernization project.

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Title: Angry Residents Tell Council to Stand Up to Cement Plant, County

Cupertino City Council members say they have represented the public's interests when it comes to Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and Quarry; residents disagree.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 12/23/2010

Some 50 residents packed into Cupertino City Council chambers Tuesday night demanding that the city's elected officials take a strong position against a nearby cement plant's proposal to dump quarried rock on its property. The council let them down.

The quarry is in an unincorporated part of the county bordering Cupertino, and the final decision to allow Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant to put a rock pile on its 3,000 acre parcel rests with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which will decide on the matter in February. Fearing that too tough a line with the county supervisors would backfire, the Cupertino City Council voted instead to convey the concerns about the quarry raised at the meeting to the county supervisors.

Those concerns center chiefly on cement kiln emissions. The word on most speakers' lips Tuesday night was "mercury." Because of the high level of naturally occurring mercury in the surrounding limestone, the toxin is emitted from kilns as the limestone is fired at high temperatures to produce cement.

A 2008 estimate of the plant's mercury emissions was put at 587 pounds; the numbers are self-reported by Lehigh, which is required by law to hire an independent consultant approved by the state. A new report done for the company and disclosed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District recently puts the amount of mercury emitted at closer to 1,200 pounds.

Only Councilmember Barry Chang was in favor of a resolution demanding the supervisors rule against the plant's proposal. Chang has been a vocal critic of Lehigh since he ran on the issue in November 2009.

Despite arguing that they had already sent letters to the county concerning the proposed rockpile, known as the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA) Cupertino council members seemed unable to convince angry citizens they were representing the public's interests with letters and public hearings.

"You fail!" one man shouted as people left the chambers. Another speaker said, "Let's get a backbone."

The cement plant and quarry are at the center of a growing debate in the Santa Clara Valley. Several citizen groups have sprung up in recent years with agendas to either pressure the county and other regulatory agencies to regulate the plant more tightly, or to shut it down completely.

In the past two months, the plant and quarry have come up for discussion at council meetings in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, as well as Cupertino. In contrast to the Cupertino council members hesitancy to come on too strong with supervisors, council members in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have expressed intense concerns about Lehigh's operations during public meetings, and in communications with the county.

It is an issue that is only going to become more contentious in coming months. While Lehigh has the EMSA issue coming up before the county Board of Supervisors this winter, the company also has plans in 2011 to ask for a 20-year permit to build a new 200-acre pit on its property in the Cupertino foothills.

The existing pit, mined since 1939 when Henry Kaiser purchased the land to produce cement to build the Shasta Dam, is almost exhausted.

The prospect of a new pit and 20 more years of emissions from the cement plant is driving the citizen groups to step up efforts to demand the county and other regulatory agencies either more tightly regulate the plant, or shut it down completely.

As more than one speaker noted on Tuesday night, the plant, originally built when the county was more rural, now affects 1.7 million Santa Clara County residents.

Officials from Lehigh, however, contend that emissions are at levels considered safe by regulatory agencies. Two Lehigh representatives at Tuesday's meeting touted the company's environmental practices and argued that the plant provides the region with locally produced cement, which has less of a carbon footprint than imported cement.

For their part, Cupertino council members, asked residents to acknowledge their efforts to balance the cement factory's interests with public health. "We've put a lot of pressure on the County already," Vice Mayor Mark Santoro said.

"We're not against you, we're with you," said Councilmember Kris Wang, noting that the council had already conducted multiple study sessions and sent letters to the county, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other regulatory agencies concerning the cement plant and quarry.

But the audience was unconvinced, a few times hissing or laughing derisively at council comments. In his first meeting as mayor, Gilbert Wong repeatedly asked for the public to be quiet and respectful. He sent the meeting into recess on at least two occasions after audience members spoke out from the floor, or at one point, gave Chang a standing ovation for his presentation in favor of approving a resolution.

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Title: Cemex fined for mercury emissions, ordered to make changes at Hernando kiln

By: Barbara Behrendt
Publication: St Petersburg Time (tampabay.com)

Posted: 12/23/2010

BROOKSVILLE — Cemex has been slapped with a $525,000 fine for emitting mercury at levels nearly 10 times the allowable limit, and the company has been ordered to make changes to one of its Hernando cement kilns to alleviate the problem.

In an agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation last month, Cemex was ordered to complete a series of actions to bring the kiln's levels of mercury back within compliance and to ensure that no more violations occur.

State DEP officials said Wednesday they could not answer any questions about health risks posed to Cemex employees or local residents, and suggested that a medical professional be consulted.

But local Health Department officials said they had not heard about the problem.

"I had no idea there was any violation … of any of those standards,'' said Al Gray, the Hernando County Health Department's environmental health manager.

He said he would get in touch with the DEP to find out whether he needed to talk to the state's toxicologists about the problem.

Mercury is thought to be especially dangerous to pregnant women and young children. A neurotoxin, it can interfere with brain and nervous system function.

County Commission Chairman John Druzbick also didn't know anything about the DEP's consent order with Cemex.

"I have no information, nothing,'' Druzbick said. "I'm surprised DEP didn't shut them down. They shut down our dredge (at Hernando Beach) when we weren't in compliance.''

Druzbick said it was disturbing that the county wasn't notified. It is the County Commission's responsibility to maintain the health, safety and welfare of county residents.

"I would hope that DEP would inform us of what's going on,'' he said.

County land services director Ron Pianta also was not aware of the consent order. While the county gets air quality monitoring reports from the Cemex facilities, none were flagged to him as a violation. The county has no role in monitoring or compliance because those are the responsibilities of state and federal agencies, Pianta said.

The mercury emission problems originated with Kiln 2 at the Cemex facility at 10311 Cement Plant Road off Cobb Road, just northwest of Brooksville.

The permit for the construction of Kiln 2 was issued in July 2005, and work began in July 2006. It began operating Nov. 28, 2008.

In November 2009, a test on the kiln indicated mercury emissions of 408 micrograms per dry standard cubic meter. Federal standards do not allow mercury at levels above 41 micrograms per dry standard cubic meter for emissions sources constructed after December 2005, according to the DEP consent order.

Compliance was required by Dec. 21, 2009, but new tests Dec. 22 and 23, 2009, showed similar mercury levels to what had been seen in November.

"Since December 21, 2009, (Cemex) has been and continues to be in violation of the mercury emissions limit of 41 micrograms per dry standard cubic meter,'' DEP district director Deborah Getzoff wrote in the consent order.

The cement kiln exceeded the acceptable mercury level on 72 days. A mercury retest done on Aug. 13 showed that the mercury levels met permit requirements. Currently, Cemex is in compliance with acceptable mercury levels, according to DEP spokeswoman Ana Gibbs.

"Cemex constructed a kiln at its Brooksville south cement plant. Upon start-up, this kiln was subject to mercury limits in its air permit and also new federal regulations,'' Leslie White, executive vice president and general counsel for Cemex, stated in an e-mail to the Times on Wednesday. "Initially, testing showed the plant to be in compliance with its air operating permit and in compliance with the stringent federal requirements during mill-on conditions.''

But when the mill, which grinds the raw ingredients, was off, the mercury levels rose above the federal limits. That only represented 10 percent of the operating time, White said.

"As a result the company and the Florida DEP worked together to implement a compliance program,'' White stated. "We undertook process changes that were successful. With these measures, we have been in compliance. In fact, in August, we passed a test with results coming in far below the limits. We will continue to work closely with the state in adhering to a long-term monitoring plan.''

A legal notice announcing the agreement between Cemex and the DEP was published, but there were no petitions or challenges by the deadline.

Cemex paid the $525,000 fine, $5,000 of which was assessed to offset DEP's cost for investigating and monitoring the matter. The fine was paid to the state's Ecosystem Management and Restoration Trust Fund, which provides dollars to pay for the management and restoration of ecosystems and for surface water improvement and management.

Mercury levels emitted from cement kilns around the country have come under environmental scrutiny, including at other Cemex facilities, most notably a plant in Colorado.

In 2008, the Earthjustice Environmental Integrity Project authored a report blasting the EPA for failing to control mercury pollution from cement kilns. Since then, the EPA has enacted new regulations.

Also in 2008, EPA reports indicated that the Brooksville Cemex operation emitted 134 pounds of mercury, placing it among the top 20 cement kiln mercury polluters across the nation. That was the year the new kiln was put into operation.

As the Earthjustice report explains, making cement is a process that requires the use of fuels and raw materials high in mercury content. Rock is heated to more than 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit, and coal is used to fuel the fire. Both the rock and the coal contain mercury, a metal that evaporates at room temperature.

The mercury in the coal and the limestone vaporizes in that process, and much of it is disposed of through the kiln's smokestacks. The material returns to the earth with rain, converting it to a more toxic form called methylmercury. There it enters the ecosystem and is absorbed by animals and fish.

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Title: MSHA announces results of November impact inspections

By: RP news wires
Publication: ReliablePlant.com

Posted: 12/21/2010

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration on December 21 announced that federal inspectors issued 250 citations, orders and safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at 12 coal and 10 metal/nonmetal mine operations last month.

These inspections, which began in force during April following the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; indications of operator tactics, such as advance notification of inspections that prevent inspectors from observing violations; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

During November's impact inspections, coal mines were issued 114 citations, 11 orders and one safeguard. For metal/nonmetal mines, 113 citations and 11 orders were issued. Since April, MSHA has conducted impact inspections at 182 coal and metal/nonmetal mines.

During an inspection conducted during the week of Nov. 15 at Lehigh Permanente Cement Co. Mine in Santa Clara County, Calif., MSHA issued 30 citations and six orders to the company. Five 104(d) orders were issued, including a violation for a supervisor's failure to de-energize electrically powered equipment prior to removing a guard. Another 104(d) order was issued for unsafe access where inadequately secured steel plates could have fallen on miners or delivery drivers accessing a storage area; this hazard had been reported to mine management two weeks earlier. A 104(b) order was issued for failure-to-abate in a timely manner a fall protection violation, in which miners working at the top of a mill were exposed to an approximately 36-foot drop to the concrete below. Sixty percent of the citations and orders were significant and substantial violations. So far this year, MSHA inspectors have issued 185 citations and 21 orders at this mine.

"MSHA's impact inspection program is helping to reduce the number of mines that consider egregious violation records a cost of doing business," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We will continue using this important enforcement tool to protect the nation's miners."

Note: A spreadsheet containing the entire results of November's impact inspections accompanies this news release.

View the spreadsheet (PDF)

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Title: Residents speak up against cement plant expansion plans

By: Lisa Amin Gulezian
Publication: ABC (KGO) Channel 7 News

Posted: 12/21/2010

CUPERTINO, Calif. (KGO) -- In Cupertino, the city council listened to hours of testimony Tuesday night from people who oppose the expansion of a local cement plant. The Lehigh Cement Plant is located south of I-280 on Stevens Creek Boulevard.

Roughly 53 people spoke at the meeting and many of them want the city council to draft a resolution opposing the plant from expanding its facility -- in essence, taking a stand against Lehigh.

"How can you guarantee, how can you assure to the community that it will be safe emission?" asked City Councilmember Barry Chang.

"I will move ahead and have the mercury emissions reduced at this facility way ahead of the deadline in 2013," said Lehigh plant manager Henrik Wesseling.

Talk of mercury and emissions filled Cupertino's city council chambers in an emotional meeting which involves the Lehigh Cement Plant - a company that's been a part of this community for 70 years. Now it wants to expand and some residents are against it, primarily for environmental reasons.

"The mercury emissions are going up not down. Mercury is deadly," said Bill Almon form Quarry No.

The group, Quarry No, opposes the plant and wants the city council to draft a resolution formally opposing the expansion. They hope that will have an impact on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors when they take up the expansion issue next year.

"As a city, we're the closest to this plant. If we don't take a strong stand, why should we expect anyone else to?" said Cupertino resident Wallis Alviar.

But Lehigh insists they've always used the 89 acres of land in question for dumping and no permits or permission from the county is required.

"It's not unusual for people to have concerns in the community where we do operate and I think for most people the more they learn, the more comfortable they are having us as a neighbor," said Marvin Howell from Lehigh.

Barbara Jones doesn't mind having Lehigh as a neighbor.

"It's very important we have industries like Lehigh, they do pay taxes and they provide us with an essential ingredient to living in the Bay Area and that's our concrete," said Jones.

The council can't take any formal action right now since no actual letter or resolution has been drafted. So based on what was decided Tuesday night, they could direct staff to write up a resolution and then vote on that or they can decide to scrap the whole thing all together.

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Title: Lehigh Southwest Cement discharges worry neighbors

By: Kelly Zito
Publication: San Francisco Cronicle (SFGate.com)

Posted: 12/21/2010

Neighbors of a historic South Bay cement plant are urging authorities to block plans for extending the facility's life for 20 years, arguing the operation spews potentially harmful amounts of mercury into the air.

Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors is reviewing a long-term permit for the Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. plant in Cupertino, which hopes to excavate a second limestone pit when its existing quarry is tapped out within the next decade.

But hundreds of residents who live near the 3,500-acre site - regularly listed as one of the top emitters of noxious gases in the Bay Area by air regulators - say the industrial business no longer belongs in an area now packed with homes, schools and parks.

This evening, the Cupertino City Council is expected to weigh in on a smaller issue related to the expansion: whether to allow the Dallas company to continue using an 89-acre parcel to dispose of rock and other debris.

Mining has occurred on the property since the late 1800s. But it was famed shipbuilder and industrialist Henry Kaiser who began a large-scale business in 1939 - using a rich limestone deposit to supply material for Shasta Dam. Today, the plant supplies the Bay Area with half of the cement used in new homes, roads, hospitals and bridges.

"We've had a quarry and cement plant there for a long time, and it's made big contributions to the growth of the county," said Bill Almon, founder of the watchdog group Quarry No. "But this is not the place to dig a new pit. When Kaiser started this, it wasn't a populated area and we didn't know what we know about mercury."

Almon and others think the plant should be permitted to operate until the current quarry is exhausted; then it should be shut down.

Metal vaporizes into air

Now known as a potent neurotoxin, mercury occurs in high concentrations in the limestone buried in the hills above Cupertino. When the rock is fired in the cement plant's enormous kilns, the metal vaporizes and travels through the air.

Company officials say their discharges are closely tracked by local, state and federal air and water regulators and, to date, have fallen below thresholds considered unsafe.

What's more, Lehigh representatives regularly meet with city and public groups to answer questions and address concerns, said Tim Matz, director of environmental affairs at the company's headquarters in Texas.

In fact, Matz said, the company this summer installed equipment that has cut mercury emissions 30 percent - well ahead of new federal regulations that call for drastic cuts by 2013.

"We're taking early actions and making an effort to reduce emissions now," Matz said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's annual Toxic Releases Inventory, Lehigh Southwest discharged anywhere from 208 and 585 pounds of mercury between 2000 and 2009.

But Almon and others argue those numbers are misleading because, for years, the plant used calculations that underestimated the amount of mercury in its emissions.

Bay Area regulators confirmed the company has recently revised its mercury emission levels upward to comply with new federal standards. But they still do not rise to harmful concentrations, said Brian Bateman of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Measuring pollutants

Nevertheless, the agency installed monitoring equipment in September at a community center about three-fourths of a mile from the plant. The gear will measure mercury and other air pollutants for at least one year.

"We're trying to make sure the emissions don't have significant impacts on people's health," Bateman said.

It is the second time in two years that concerns about air pollution near the Lehigh plant have prompted regulators to test air quality there. For several months in 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency analyzed air at Stevens Creek Elementary School for hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen. The September report found the chemical did not occur at levels harmful for either short or long periods of exposure.

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Title: Cupertino cement plant draws neighbors' ire

By: Brian Nearing
Publication: Times Union (Albany NY)

Posted: 12/21/2010

CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of residents of a Cupertino neighborhood are calling for an end to a cement plant that they accuse of releasing potentially harmful amounts of mercury.

The neighbors say the plant operated by Dallas-based Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. no longer belongs in an area that now includes homes, schools and parks. They are asking Santa Clara County supervisors not to approve a permit application that would allow the plant to continue operating for another 20 years.

Bill Almon, founder of the watchdog group Quarry No, tells the San Francisco Chronicle the plant should exhaust its current quarry in the next several years and then shut down.

Company officials say their mercury discharges are closely monitored by air regulators and are well below thresholds considered unsafe.

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Title: No conclusion on Lafarge plant

By: None mentioned
Publication: USA Today

Posted: 12/01/2010

RAVENA -- A study by the state Health Department on pollution from the Lafarge cement plant reached no conclusion on whether such pollution might be making people sick, with a state official saying that answer will be addressed in a second study.

The study, begun almost two years ago and released Monday, did examine past records for various illnesses, including cancer, respiratory disorders and low birth weights, and found that rates in five ZIP codes around the plant "appear to be similar to rates across the state."

However, ZIP codes are too geographically large to show whether people are being sickened in less expansive areas where air pollution from the plant might be more concentrated by wind or other weather patterns, the report added.

DOH spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said the lack of conclusion was expected in this report, which was prepared by 12 authors. "This report was meant to present what information has been documented during the years on the particulates and contamination from the cement, and lay out the scientific basis of further study," she said.

Hutton said it was too soon to tell how long the second study, which could examine these issues, might take.

That drew criticism from a leader of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, a grassroots Ravena group that pressed the Health Department in early 2009 to do a health study around the plant.

"This shows how flawed the state's premise was from the beginning. It should have been obvious before they spent nearly two years on it," said Elyse Kunz, CASE co-founder. "We told them that the existing data was not a reliable set that you could draw conclusions on. In some cases, it was very old and not done to the scientific level that we have today."

Kunz said the report appears not to answer the basic question posed by CASE at the start -- are people around the plant being sickened and, if so, what can be done to help?

The Route 9W plant, directly across the street from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School, is the state's second-largest source of airborne mercury, a potent neurotoxin dangerous to developing fetuses and pregnant women.

CASE also got public health experts from Harvard University School of Public Health to conduct a health study in May that took hair and blood samples from about 185 people in the area. Those results could be issued in January.

Last week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation accepted an application from Lafarge to replace the 49-year-old cement kilns with less-polluting versions that use less energy. Lafarge hopes to have the new plant ready by 2015.

Regardless of the state report, said Kunz, it came too late to make a difference in Lafarge's air pollution permit, which was renewed in September by DEC after more than a year of review. "DOH missed the boat," Kunz said.

The new permit limits mercury emissions to 176 pounds a year. In early 2009, the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimated annual mercury emissions at 167 pounds.

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or bnearing@timesunion.com. The report is available online at www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/investigations/lafarge/ Copies are also available at the RCS Community Library, 15 Mountain Road, Ravena. Comments can be submitted in writing or electronically through Jan. 31 to: Bettsy Prohonic, Education and Outreach Unit, New York State Department of Health, 547 River St., Room 316, Troy, N.Y. 12180. Comments can also be faxed to (518) 402-7539 or emailed to ceheduc@health.state.ny.us.

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Title: Los Altos Hills City Council could monitor quarry

By: Elliott Burr
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 11/30/2010

The longstanding controversy surrounding nearby Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and its allegedly harmful emissions made its way to the Los Altos Hills City Council last month.

Los Altos Hills Councilman Jean Mordo suggested that Los Altos Hills hire its own consultant to measure plant emissions before voting on whether to formally oppose the plant. The council agreed Nov. 18 to defer a decision until more substantive information is available.

“There are people who say, ‘We don’t trust (Lehigh),’ and (Lehigh) says they’ve done analyses certified by the state of California,” Mordo said. “My solution is, let’s hire our own consultants. … We can figure out once and for all if … they’re monitoring in the areas we’re concerned about.”

The more than 3,000-acre plant (618 acres are active in mining and cement production) has come under fire from other local governments, including Cupertino and Los Altos, concerned that its emission of mercury, benzene and chromium 6 could harm residents.

Lehigh Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling, who touts the company’s recent 25 percent reduction in mercury emissions, urged councilmembers at the November meeting to postpone any decisions until they acquire “unbiased” information.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, one of the plant’s 17 regional, state and federal regulators, conducted “numerous studies,” Wesseling said, citing air district assessments of Lehigh-hired consultant AMEC Geomatrix emission measurements. “Their conclusion is that this facility is operating at health-risk-level zero. This includes all emissions.”

Lehigh, which has made cement in Cupertino for more than 70 years, has a legal nonconforming use permit for its facility, but the company plans to apply for renewal of the 20-year use permit from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. A public hearing originally scheduled Nov. 23 has been postponed to early next year.

Lehigh data, confirmed by company officials, indicate the plant emits 337 pounds of mercury annually, a reduction from its 2005 level of 582 pounds per year. At that time, the Environmental Protection Agency pegged Lehigh as the fourth-highest polluting facility in the country.

Brian Bateman, director of engineering at the air district, said Lehigh is operating below a reference exposure level of 1, which mitigates the need to notify the public of the content of the emissions from their smokestacks. If a facility earns a value between 1 and 10, it must release that information to the public; above 10, it’s required to take steps to reduce emissions.

Bateman said the air district derives its indices from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The organization also implements California Proposition 65, which mandates that facilities like Lehigh notify nearby residents of emissions when they exceed a certain threshold. Still, opponents are wary.

Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon hired a lawyer on behalf of his approximately 500-member watchdog group, QuarryNo, alleging in October that the plant has violated Proposition 65 since 2007. If the claim is found accurate, the plant could face fines dating back three years and be required to notify nearby schools, hospitals and homes of toxins emitted in the area.

A Lehigh representative said the company couldn’t comment on pending or active lawsuits.

Regarding potential adverse health effects any amount of emissions could have, “Unfortunately, the answer for that is not known,” Bateman said.

In approximately two months, Lehigh is scheduled to complete its latest health-risk assessment, according to Bateman.

At a Nov. 9 Los Altos City Council meeting, Dr. Shymali Singhal, surgical oncologist at El Camino Hospital, suggested that the compounding effect of multiple chemicals could lead to “synergistic toxicity,” and increase the likelihood of cancer.

“We need more information about synergistic toxicity from the quarry,” she said.

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Title: Cement plant's impact on file

By: Brian Nearing
Publication: Times Union (Albany NY)

Posted: 11/23/2010

RAVENA -- More than two years after announcing plans to replace its aging cement plant, which is the state's second-largest source of airborne mercury, Lafarge North America has filed a completed application with the state Department of Environmental Conservation outlining consequences of the $500 million project.

A completed draft Environmental Impact Statement will be released on Wednesday, according to a notice also set to be issued Wednesday by the DEC that was obtained by the Times Union.

The EIS release will start a 90-day public comment period that will end Feb. 22. A public information meeting on the plant is set for Dec. 8 at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School, located across the street from the plant. A public hearing is set for Jan. 20 at the high school.

"The public noticing of our Environmental Impact Statement is a key step in the process that will enable Lafarge to have an even cleaner and more efficient facility," said John Reagan, Lafarge's Ravena environmental manager. "If approved, the project will help us remain competitive for the long term and protect good paying jobs right here in Upstate New York."

Lafarge announced plans in July 2008 to rebuild its two high-temperature kilns, which have been in place since the plant was built in 1962, with modern, less-polluting versions.

In September, Lafarge received a five-year extension of its federal air pollution permit from the DEC.

The new kilns will use a "dry" process that replaces a current system that incorporates large amounts of water, and will require replacing the existing 325-foot smokestack with a 525-foot "preheater/precalciner tower."

The new facility will be able to produce about 63 percent more cement, up from 1.7 million tons a year to 2.8 million tons. While emissions of carbon monoxide will increase, "other emissions will decrease or remain constant," according to the DEC notice.

Emissions of mercury would be reduced under new federal rules for cement plants, according to the notice, which did not provide any figures.

When Lafarge announced the project, the company indicated construction would begin in 2013 and take three years to complete.

Copies of the draft Environmental Impact Statement will be available Wednesday online at http://www.bethlehemchamber.com/modernization, as well as at DEC headquarters on Broadway in Albany; the town halls of Coeymans, Stuyvesant, Chatham, Kinderhook, Schodack and New Baltimore; and at public libraries in Kinderhook, North Chatham, Chatham, Valatie and Ravena.

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Title: 2. Local Cement Plant Criticized

By: Ronnie Lovler
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 11/22/2010

The controversy over Lehigh South Cement's Permanente plant will continue into the new year when the Los Altos Hills Town Council looks again at whether the plant has the right to use the land where it is currently storing quarried rock. City leaders are concerned about the environmental impact of plant operations as well as questioning whether whether Lehigh can use what's called the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA) for storing quarried rock that cannot be used for manufacturing cement.

Lehigh says it has "vested rights" to the area because has been used historically by the quarry, and so is part of an existing conditional use permit?. City leaders are studying whether Lehigh does that have privilege. Early next year, the council will seek a public hearing with the Board of Supervisors on the issue.

A public hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed to late January or February after planners said they needed more time to research the issue. The currently seated Los Altos Hills council believes Lehigh does not have the legal right to use the EMSA. The body will form a committee to look into the cement plant controversy in December, once newly elected council members are seated. More cities are looking critically at this issue, including Los Altos and Mountain View.

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Title: Los Altos Hills Town Council Sharply Criticizes Owners of Local Cement Plant

Fearing residents are being exposed to toxins, the LAH Council says it wants more of a say in permit issues concerning the Permanente facility
By: Pam Marino
Publication: Los Altos Patch

Posted: 11/20/2010

Members of the Los Altos Hills Town Council had some harsh words Thursday night for Lehigh Southwest Cement, and expressed doubts that county and other regulatory agencies are paying close enough attention to activities at the Permanente cement plant and quarry just to the south of the city's boundaries.

"I think we need to keep this on top of the inbox. We have to be aggressive. We're being poisoned and our children are being poisoned," said Mayor Pro Tem Rich Larson, via speakerphone from Houston, Texas, during the council meeting.

Mayor Breene Kerr had equally sharp words for the owners of Lehigh.

"In this country I don't think you have a right to poison people whether you have a grandfathered conditional use permit or not," Kerr said.

There are several issues swirling around the Permanente cement kiln and quarry, but the most current issue is whether Lehigh can use what's called the East Materials Storage Area (EMSA) for storing quarried rock that cannot be used for manufacturing cement.

In 2008 the county issued a notice of violation over Lehigh's use of the area, after a citizen complained about a visible, growing rock pile. Lehigh officials contend that they have what are called "vested rights" to use the storage area. They argue that the area has been used historically by the quarry, and thus are a part of an existing conditional use permit.

County planners had scheduled a public hearing with the Board of Supervisors about the EMSA for next Tuesday, Nov. 23, but on Nov. 15 they postponed the meeting to possibly late January or February. Planners cited needing more time to research the issue.

At some point the board will be asked to determine if Lehigh does have vested rights to the EMSA. If it is determined that Lehigh does not have those rights, the company will have to apply for a new permit for that specific area of the company's property.

The Los Altos Hills council had formulated a resolution at Thursday night's meeting that would have told the county that in its opinion Lehigh does not have a legal right to use the EMSA. Because of the postponement, the council members decided to instead form a committee in December, once newly elected council members are seated. The committee will study how the city can become more involved in the county process, as well as how to work with neighboring cities on the issue.

Much like members of the Los Altos City Council meeting last week, some Los Altos Hills council members expressed concern that the county and regulatory agencies are not acting in the public's best interests.

Part of the concern centers on the fact that companies paid by Lehigh produce the reports on air emissions from the cement kiln that are then used by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

Councilman Jean Mordo and Lawson said they wanted to see some sort of completely independent study done by local cities.

Lehigh Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling assured the council that the numbers produced for the BAAQMD are by independent companies approved by the state, and that all the results are "transparent" to the public. He said the company is not emitting toxic levels that would harm local residents.

Despite Wesseling's assurances, council members remained skeptical that the plant is not contaminating the air, water and land surrounding the operation at unsafe levels. Lehigh's own reports show the plant is emitting mercury, CO2, and other toxins such as arsenic, benzene and chromium 6. A question in the minds of critics is how much exposure is safe.

In addition, council members wondered aloud if the county is more interested in keeping the plant operating, more than protecting citizens from contamination.

"I got the impression that the county is not disinterested," Mordo said, adding that county officials seem willing to "look the other way."

Lawson urged the council to not "blindly follow the county," and said he is prepared to "go all the way to court" to battle the plant.

Later in the meeting Kerr took a more conciliatory stance, saying he recognized that the plant provides a needed commodity for the community, simultaneously urging the operation's owners to establish a state-of-the-art facility that would not harm the environment.

Los Altos Hills resident and leader of the group Quarry No, Bill Almon, told the council that his group recently filed a lawsuit under Proposition 65, which requires companies to notify the public when there is exposure to toxic chemicals. Quarry No contends that the plant is emitting 69 toxins that do meet requirements for public notification.

Groups like Quarry No and a few others that are protesting the plant and quarry are gathering steam in efforts to put pressure on local governments to get more involved in the matter. In the last two weeks the issue has come before four local councils, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Mountain View and Cupertino.

In Cupertino the matter was not on the agenda on Tuesday night, but more than 15 residents showed up to complain about Lehigh during the public comments portion of the meeting. Most urged the Cupertino council to take a stand against the county granting rights for the EMSA.

Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang has been particularly persistent in his efforts to seek more monitoring of the Lehigh plant. He appeared before the Los Altos Hills council last night, sent a letter to the Mountain View council urging its participation, and has shown up the past several months at the county Board of Supervisors to bring up the issue during the public comments section.

The battle over the Permanente facility shows no signs of cooling down, since in addition to the current issue over the EMSA, the company is seeking a new permit to mine a new 200-acre pit.

"I think this is shocking and it goes way beyond whether the existing plant should remain in business," councilwoman Ginger Summit said. "This new development needs a lot of scrutiny."?

 

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Title: Opponents offer 3-phase plan to halt cement plant operations

By: Town Crier Staff Report
Publication: Los Altos Time Crier

Posted: 11/18/2010

With a renewed five-year permit for Lehigh (formerly Kaiser) cement plant being considered, opponents of the pollutive facility in the Cupertino foothills are mounting a three-phase plan to halt operations.

The plant, south of Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, has been operating since 1939, when Henry J. Kaiser opened it. The plant and quarry face increasing environmental challenges in the wake of tightening regulations and objections from surrounding residents, including those in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Officials from Lehigh, a German-based company, have maintained compliance with regulations and emphasize, as previous owners have, that the 2,500-acre quarry means inexpensive cement for the Bay Area. In addition to the plant operating permit, Lehigh is working on a reclamation plan that would expand quarry mining of limestone.

Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon is convinced local politicians and officials with the regulating Bay Area Air Quality Management District are not conducting enough oversight on Lehigh operations. Earlier this year, he formed the group, QuarryNo (QuarryNo.com), to get residents organized and active in their opposition.

Almon said Phase 1 of his plan involves his attending today’s meeting of the air district’s board of directors, along with newly elected Cupertino City Councilman Barry Chang, speaking under the public comment portion of the meeting.

“The public health and safety is the key here,” Chang said.

Almon contends the cement plant and quarry are releasing mercury emissions and other hazardous materials at a level that imposes health risks on residents.

“I’m still waiting on a commitment from councilpersons in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills to join us,” he said last week. “We will also have a support letter from Saratoga to read. Prior to the meeting, the Sierra Club, through its Earthjustice arm, will have called all 22 board members endorsing our message.”

Phase 2 would include a formal request for a place on the agenda at the next board of directors’ meeting, Dec. 2.

“That may or may not be accepted,” Almon said. “In any event, we will attend the Dec. 2 board meeting and have a press conference based on being on the agenda or having been denied representation as neither Cupertino, Los Altos nor Los Altos Hills have board seats. Earthjustice will assist and participate in the press conference.”

Brian Bateman, the air district’s director of engineering overseeing the Lehigh permit process, said the board would not likely hold a public hearing on the Title V permit, which essentially rolls a multitude of conditions into one permit.

“The board doesn’t get involved in that (approval),” Bateman said. “They don’t have the authority. That authority lies with the air pollution control officer, our chief executive officer.”

“We know the staff is preparing the final permit. We do not know when they might sneak it out, and that is why we are physically staying close,” Almon said. “We doubt they will ever respond to the hundreds of pages of formal comment we have submitted, as they believe it was only to allow for public venting.”

If phases 1 and 2 of Almon’s plan fail to elicit attention from the air district, he said he would proceed to Phase 3 – litigation.

To that end, he would work with Earthjustice to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the basis that “the permit lacks sufficient periodic monitoring to assure compliance.”

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Title: Los Altos council digs into quarry controversy: Plant officials continue to defend operations

By: Elliott Burr
Publication: Los Altos Time Crier

Posted: 11/17/2010

Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, a vocal critic of emissions from nearby Lehigh Permanente Southwest Cement Plant in Cupertino, received support for his cause from the Los Altos City Council last week.

Councilmembers unanimously voted to send a letter to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors expressing concern over the facility’s emissions and requesting information on steps the county has taken to monitor them. The Los Altos Hills City Council is scheduled to discuss sending a similar letter at its meeting Thursday.

“I’m interested in preserving the health and well-being of our community,” Los Altos Mayor David Casas said. “It’s prudent for our residents, given the potential impact, that we clearly understand the consequences” of excessive emissions.

Casas is scheduled to address the board of supervisors on the matter Tuesday at a public hearing. Quarry officials plan to apply for a 25-year operating permit with Santa Clara County that would allow expanded mining operations in coming months.

The facility provides more than 50 percent of the cement used in the Bay Area, according to Lehigh estimates. Almon is working to curtail the expansion with QuarryNo, a group he founded in 2008 to rally against Lehigh and urge the county to deny the plant the permit.

He has alleged that most of the quarry’s mercury, benzene and arsenic emissions – some of which naturally occur in the limestone used to make cement – blow over Los Altos in the wind. “The threat is very significant,” Almon said at a presentation to the council Nov. 10. Data Almon obtained in August and confirmed by quarry officials states that the plant emitted 582 pounds of mercury in 2008, making it at the time the nation’s fourth highest mercury-polluting cement plant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The facility currently emits 337 pounds of mercury per year, according to Lehigh officials, a reduction that complies with updated EPA regulations. “The real deadly (chemicals) like arsenic, lead, mercury, benzene and chromium 6 are in minute quantities, so they are not observable,” Almon said in an interview after the presentation. “You don’t smell them, there is no plume. … It is only much later, after they have affected your body, that you are aware of their impact.” Almon, on behalf of QuarryNo, which has grown to include 500 members, has secured legal representation to present the position that the quarry violates California’s Proposition 65, requiring public notification of harmful emissions beyond specified levels.

Almon also said the facility has operated without an Environmental Impact Report. Lehigh hired AMEC Geomatrix to perform a Health Risk Assessment, which concluded in September that “based on current operating conditions at the facility, potential human health risks for cancer endpoints were below levels requiring notification.”

Councilman Ron Packard, a lawyer by profession, said he’s willing to authorize “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in legal fees to ensure the quarry’s compliance with regulations. “I don’t like to hinder business and industry. It’s the backbone of our country,” Packard said.“I want to support it, but they have to be responsible.”

Quarry representatives said they were not notified of Almon’s presentation last week. “While I first learned about the Los Altos City Council agenda item after the fact, we would have gladly participated,” said Henrik Wesseling, plant manager. “Lehigh Permanente is always happy to meet with our neighbors and elected officials to answer questions and share information about our operations.” Shyamali Singhal, surgical oncologist at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, spoke at the meeting, claiming the quarry’s emissions data don’t take into account “synergistic toxicity,” a concept in which chemicals are more harmful and behave differently when compounded. “One in two people in their lifetime is going to get cancer,” Singhal said. “We need more information about synergistic toxicity from the quarry.”

The county board of supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

Contact Elliott Burr at elliottb@latc.com.

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Title: OR Cement Plant at Epicenter of EPA Air Pollution Battle

By: Unknown
Publication: KAST News

Posted: 11/15/2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Ash Grove Cement Company plant in Durkee, Oregon, is one of many under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on dangerous mercury emissions. The federal agency says the plant's mercury levels are among the highest in the country, and has announced new rules for cement kilns nationwide. The plant has asked for, and been given, more time to comply.

In the meantime, the cement industry is fighting the new rules, and environmental groups are lining up in the EPA's corner. Six groups have engaged the law firm Earthjustice to file a brief supporting the EPA crackdown. Their attorney is Jim Pew.

"The reductions that EPA is requiring are very doable. Cement plants emit lots and lots of very toxic pollution, so getting these plants to clean up is very important. The rules are going to do that, and they're giving cement plants lots of time to get the job done."

The industry's major trade group, the Portland Cement Association, argues that the limits are too tough and some plants won't be able to meet them. It calls the new rules a "threat" to cement companies and the jobs they provide.

However, Pew points out, the plants, including the one in Durkee, are largely owned by multi-billion-dollar companies that can afford to clean up their emissions.

"What they don't mention is that the standards are no more stringent than the Clean Air Act requires. In fact, EPA was supposed to put these standards in place more than a decade ago. So, the cement industry has been allowed to not clean up their toxic emissions for more than 10 years."

Ash Grove is a big employer and taxpayer in Baker County. Pew says getting it off the list of the nation's top mercury polluters would also make it a better corporate citizen.

"It's got a good start by putting on the Activated Carbon Injection system. But that's not the only way out there to get mercury emissions down. There are lots of other things the plant can do to get up to the level it needs to get, to meet these standards."

The environmental groups say tougher air pollution rules would prevent 2,500 deaths nationwide every year and result in up to $18 billion in health benefits. The EPA has determined that the economic benefit of the new rules will outweigh the cost. The issue will be heard by a Washington, D.C., circuit court.

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Title: Eastern Oregon Cement Plant At Center Of Pollution Debate

By: Glenn Vaagen
Publication: My Central Oregon

Posted: 11/15/2010

BEND, OR -- The Ash Grove Cement Company plant outside of Baker City is one of many locations ordered by the EPA to cut back mercury emissions. The agency said the mercury levels are currently some of the highest in the country. The plant recently asked for, and was granted, more time to meet requirements, and in the meantime, the cement industry is fighting new environmental requirements. Earthjustice recently filed a brief supporting the EPA's stance.

"The reductions that EPA is requiring are very doable," said attorney Jim Pew. "And cement plants emit lots and lots of very toxic pollution, so getting these plants to clean up is very important - and the rules are going to do that, and they're giving cement plants lots of time to get the job done."

Environmental groups said the tougher air pollution rules would prevent 2,500 deaths nationwide every year, and result in up to $18 billion in health benefits. The industry's major trade group has called the new rules a threat to cement companies and the jobs they provide.

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Title: Los Altos City Council Expresses 'Grave Concerns' About Local Cement Plant

The council has voted unanimously to write to the board of supervisors with concerns over expansion of the Lehigh cement plant and quarry.

By: Pam Marino
Publication: Cupertino Patch

Posted: 11/11/2010

The Los Altos City Council is setting its sights on a quarry and cement plant just south of the city that critics say is spewing toxins into the air, endangering thousands of local residents, particularly in south and central Los Altos.

On Tuesday the council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors that expresses "grave concerns" about expansion plans and a 20-year permit extension at the Lehigh Southwest Cement Permanente Plant, located behind Rancho San Antonio Regional Park.

"It's impacting our community significantly," said Mayor Pro Tem Ron Packard, "and because of that, it's our community that's going to have to take a step, because the county is getting a huge financial benefit from allowing this operation to continue by way of property taxes."

In the letter, Mayor David Casas will call for the county to complete an environmental impact report (EIR) before allowing an expansion of the quarry or extension of the site's county permit. Earlier on Tuesday, the council was told that the plant and quarry are operating without an EIR.

The council also gave approval to Casas to speak at a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 23 at county headquarters in San Jose.

Taking action now would make the city eligible to file a lawsuit against the expansion plans and lease extension, if enough council members support such an action, according to City Attorney Jolie Houston.

However, not all council members were ready to go that far; some, like councilwoman Megan Satterlee, said they wanted more information from the county, as well as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), before taking action beyond a strongly worded letter from Casas.

At issue is whether the 70-year-old cement plant is releasing potentially dangerous levels of toxins into the air, and whether local agencies, such as the county and the BAAQMD, are doing enough to regulate the emissions.

"The threat is very significant," said Bill Almon, a Los Altos Hills resident and leader of a citizens group called "Quarry No." Almon said that while the impact of the toxins being released is up for debate and difficult to say, he added that it could be "worse than we know."

According to information Almon collected, the plant emits 582 pounds of mercury a year into the atmosphere and produces large amounts of carbon dioxide. The plant also emits arsenic, benzene and Chromium 6, he said.

Almon said Los Altos is affected more than Cupertino, which is physically closer to the plant, because winds coming from the plant travel in a northeast direction over the southern and central portions of Los Altos.

No representatives from Lehigh were present at the council meeting.

Council members also said Tuesday that they wanted to make the issue a "special project" for the city attorney.

"I'm willing to spend into the large figures, hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, to protect our residents," Packard said.

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Title: Los Altos jumps into quarry debate

By: Diana Samuels
Publication: Peninsula (Palo Alto Daily News)

Posted: 11/10/2010

The Los Altos City Council decided Tuesday to dig into a county debate over the future of a local quarry and cement plant that has been accused of pumping toxins into the air.

The council voted unanimously to send a letter to county officials expressing its concerns about the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company site in unincorporated Santa Clara County, just south of Los Altos.

"I'm not interested in rattling sabers," Mayor David Casas said, "but I am interested in preserving the health of our community."

Bill Almon, founder of the "Quarry No" group, said the county is considering an application from Lehigh to dig a new pit and obtain a permit for 20 years of use. He gave a presentation to the council at a study session Tuesday and urged members to take a stand against the quarry. Its operations emit mercury and carbon dioxide, as well as arsenic, benzone and chromium 6 toxins, which affect Los Altos residents, Almon alleged.

"These toxins are silent," he said. "You can't smell them. You won't see them. They're not in the smoke."

Another speaker pointed to instances where Lehigh was cited for not following air quality guidelines. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice to the company in the spring for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.

"Why should we think that granting them the ability to do this for another 20 years, that all of the sudden they're going to start abiding by the guidelines?" one woman asked the council.

No representatives from Lehigh were present at the city council meeting. In June, company officials announced they had installed equipment to reduce mercury emissions by 25 percent.

The council decided to outline its concerns in a letter to the county, urging officials to complete an environmental impact report for any quarry expansion before considering approval.

Los Altos also plans to submit formal requests for information about the quarry to the various governmental agencies involved, including Santa Clara County and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Council members said they may ask City Attorney Jolie Houston to focus on the quarry as a "special project."

Mayor Pro Tem Ron Packard said he is willing to see the city spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees" to make sure regulations applying to the quarry are enforced.

"It's impacting our community significantly, and because of that, it's our community that's probably going to have to take the step," he said. "The county is getting a huge financial benefit from allowing this operation to continue, by way of property taxes."

E-mail Diana Samuels at dsamuels@dailynewsgroup.com

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Title: NY Plant at Heart of Cement-Making Air Pollution Battle

By: Mark Scheerer
Publication: Public News Service - NY

Posted: November 09, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. - The LaFarge cement plant in Ravena, south of Albany, is one of many cement factories nationwide under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on dangerous mercury emissions. The cement industry announced last Friday it's going to fight the new rules, and Earthjustice has responded quickly. On behalf of six environmental groups, the law firm is filing a brief in support of the EPA's decision, saying it would avoid 2500 premature deaths nationwide every year, and result in up to $18 billion worth of health benefits.

Susan Falzone, an environmental activist, lives across the Hudson River from the LaFarge facility and is disappointed in the industry's resistance.

"This is just a further delay that just causes all of us to be taking more mercury into our systems."

The industry trade group, the Portland Cement Association, argues that the proposed emission limits are too low and some plants won't be able to meet them. And it says the new rules are a threat to many cement companies, the jobs they provide, and the communities where they are located.

Attorney Jim Pew with Earthjustice says the industry's argument is "nonsense" and the EPA has determined that the economic benefits of meeting the rules will outweigh the costs. He adds that the U.S. cement industry is largely owned by multi-billion-dollar foreign companies.

"It's not going to drive them out of business. It's not going to cause them to cut jobs. They can do this, but they would just rather keep the money and let their toxic pollution go on killing people here in America."

Susan Falzone is director of Friends of Hudson, a local group that's been fighting the cement industry over pollution for many years. She's not surprised they are resisting the EPA rules.

"It is a rule with requirements that they can easily meet if they are willing to take on the expense. It makes me very angry to see how cynical they can be with people's lives. "

Jim Pew of Earthjustice says the cement industry has been raising what he calls "apocalyptic" claims for years about the effects of cleaning up its pollution. And he's eager to see what happens when the issue is heard by a Washington, D.C., Circuit Court.

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Title: Ash Grove files suit against EPA’s ruling

By: Russell Vineyard
Publication: Baker City Herald

Posted: November 08, 2010

The Ash Grove Cement Co. is looking for a judicial ruling on the mercury emissions at the plant near Durkee.

Ash Grove officials have filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling on the National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

Curtis Lesslie, Ash Grove’s vice president, said in a press release issued today that the limits the EPA created for mercury emissions are too low and not based on available technology.

In July, Ash Grove’s Durkee plant finished the installation of a new $20 million mercury filtering system. According to Lesslie, this is the best-known system in the world and has reduced emissions by about 90 percent.

The EPA rule would require the plant to reduce emissions by 97 percent.

According to a statement by Jackie Clark, Ash Grove’s press relations officer, the EPA has recognized the system installed in Durkee as “the cement manufacturing industry’s cutting-edge mercury emission control technology.”

This filtration system was installed three years prior to the federal requirement.

The mercury emissions are caused by limestone used in cement manufacturing. Limestone in the Durkee area has higher-than-normal naturally occurring levels of mercury.

Clark said that the filtration system reduces the emissions more than double what the EPA originally thought was possible four years ago when the new rules were put into effect.

Lesslie said, “We and others asked the EPA in the rulemaking process to create a subcategory to address this issue, and despite widespread public support for a subcategory in eastern Oregon, the agency failed to exercise the approach outlined in the Clean Air Act for a subcategory that Congress intended to be used in exactly this circumstance.”

If the Durkee plant cannot lower the mercury emissions by EPA standards, the plant will be forced to close.

Ash Grove has enlisted the help of both Baker County and Baker City to act as “amicus curiae” — or friends of the court.

Both the Baker County Board of Commissioners and the Baker City Councilors have agreed to act as amicus curiae with the condition that they are not financially responsible for court fees.

The County and City will write letters explaining the possible economic impact of closing the Durkee plant.

Ash Grove has an annual payroll of about $9 million, and it pays about $884,000 per year in property taxes.

“We continue to pursue all means with the federal government through the judicial, legislative and regulatory structures to ensure that Ash Grove can keep the lights on at Durkee by recognizing the limitations we face despite operating the best known technology in the world,” Clark said.

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 Title: Middle School eCYBERMISSION Team Tests Mercury Levels, Takes Action

This story was originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Harker Quarterly

By: Emily Chow
Publication: Harker News

Posted: November 08, 2010

For the fourth year in a row, Harker students claimed regional recognition in eCYBERMISSION’s national competition, receiving monetary awards totaling $18,000 between the two teams. One team also received an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Judging and Educational Event in Baltimore, Md., on June 21-26 to present their final project to four army officials and teachers from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

A competition challenging students in grades six to nine to use science, math and technology to solve real community issues, eCYBERMISSION encourages students to research and conduct experiments to find a solution. While “Dust Busters,” Allen Cheng, Daniel Pak, Albert Chu and Sharon Babu, now all grade 9, did not place nationally in Baltimore, the team had the opportunity to meet with all regional winners and explore the two Smithsonian museums and Aberdeen Proving Ground, home of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

The “Dust Busters’” presentation was the culmination of a year’s worth of research on a community controversy two students initially read about in the town newspaper related to mercury dust emissions from Lehigh Hanson Cement Plant.

Before submitting their project online in February, the quartet spent five months collecting water from four different bodies of water, testing for emissions in the lab and compiling data to research ways to educate the residents about the pollution and possible health issues. They also interviewed Hanson Quarry to hear the company’s side of the story.

The “Dust Busters” discovered that, while the local cement plant was not in violation of the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the mercury level in water near the quarry was significantly higher than mercury levels in other bodies of water in the area. The students took their findings to the Cupertino City Council and created a pamphlet that was distributed door-to-door to residents.

“This project needs students who have good research skills, writing skills, data collection and analysis and public relations skills to help them interview experts in the field that they are working on,” Vandana Kadam, advisor and math teacher, said about the group’s dynamic. “This team had a good combination of these qualities and hence worked very well together.”

The “Analytic Trio,” now also in grade 9, were Vikas Bhetanabhotla, Divyahans Gupta and Brian Tuan. They also received high honors and were recognized for their project’s application of science, math and technology. After experimenting with six different designs, the “Analytic Trio” presented a gas nozzle prototype that emits a lower amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the environment than the current nozzle used across the nation.

“We are extremely proud of the students from The Harker School for their creative and innovative use of outstanding research, experimentation and analysis during this year’s eCYBERMISSION competition,” Major General Nick G. Justice said. “These students were selected from thousands of their peers, not only for their potential as future leaders in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math], but for their work to improve and make a positive impact on the communities in which they live.”

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Title: Lafarge groups gets private state health briefing

By: Brian Nearing Staff Writer
Publication: Times Union (Albany, NY)

Posted: 09/23/2010]

RAVENA -- A group formed by the Lafarge cement plant will hear from the state Health Department next week on a still-unfinished health study about potential health risks around the plant.

No preliminary findings from the state study, in the works for more than a year, will be released during the closed-door presentation Sept. 30 to the Lafarge Community Liaison Panel, DOH spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said Wednesday.

He said the meeting was to "provide an update on the status of the (assessment); and, answer questions about the status and process ... We won't be sharing the results of the (assessment) during this meeting as Phase 1 is not yet complete."

The planned presentation irked a leader of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, a grassroots group pressing for stricter pollution controls. The Route 9W plant is the state's second-largest source of airborne mercury, a potent neurotoxin dangerous to developing fetuses and pregnant women.

"I would hate to think that DOH has made arrangements to share the results of their health summary with Lafarge before making arrangements to share it with the community groups that requested it in the first place," said Elyse Kunz, CASE co-founder.

CASE members pushed for the Health Department beginning in early 2009 to do its first-ever health study around Lafarge, which is across the street from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk middle and high school.

CASE also got public health experts from Harvard University School of Public Health to conduct a health study in May that took hair and blood samples from about 185 people in the area.

Harvard will not provide people with individual test results. When asked why, Hammond directed a reporter to Harvard's own consent form, which contained that language.

A DOH e-mail obtained by the Times Union tells a somewhat different story. In an May 14 e-mail written by Dr. Howard Freed, DOH director of the Center for Environmental Health, to Douglas W. Dockery, department chairman of environmental health at Harvard, Freed warned release of individual results from Harvard's study would be a "violation of state law" because Harvard's lab was not certified by the state Health Department.

That e-mail -- sent the night before Harvard researchers arrived in Ravena to begin the study -- necessitated Harvard rewriting the study's consent form.

Lafarge spokesman Saleem Cheeks said the Sept. 30 meeting of the DOH study was closed to the public to "encourage frank and honest discussion." The panel includes Lafarge Plant Manager Martin Turecky, plant environmental manager John Reagan, Ravena Village Mayor John Bruno, Stuyvesant Town Supervisor Valerie Bertram, and local environmental activist James Travers.

Kunz questioned the slow pace of the state study, which includes no medical tests of area residents. "The department is just gathering work that has been done already. How long does this take?" she asked.

Whatever the state reports, said Kunz, comes too late to make a difference in Lafarge's air pollution permit, which was renewed last week by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after more than a year of review. "DOH missed the boat," Kunz said.

The new permit limits mercury emissions to 176 pounds a year. In early 2009, the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimated annual mercury emissions at 167 pounds.

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Title: Residents near lehigh will soon know if air is polluted

By: Matt Wilson
Publication: Cupertino Courier

Posted: 09/23/2010

Cupertino residents in the Monta Vista neighborhood may soon have an answer to whether the air they breathe is polluted.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up a mobile air-monitoring station at Monta Vista Park on Sept. 1 and is working with the city to measure pollutants in the neighborhood, which is close to the Lehigh Southwest Cement facility off Stevens Creek Boulevard. The station is about 3 miles from the Lehigh facility.\

Officials from the air district and the city have been working on the station's placement since February in response to resident concerns about air quality in neighborhoods around Lehigh.

The air-quality monitoring station will measure pollutants such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and various metals. Pollutant levels will be reported in real time to BAAQMD's website. Data will also be periodically analyzed in a laboratory every four months.

Eric Stevenson, director of technical services for BAAQMD, said the station measures ambient air, which makes it difficult to determine the exact origin of any potential pollutants. The readings represent what a neighborhood is exposed to, but not where the pollutants are coming from, he said. The air quality testing will act more like a "snapshot" of what residents are breathing on a daily basis.

The air district is the lead public agency that regulates stationary sources of air pollution in the nine counties that make up the Bay Area.

The Lehigh facility is the only cement plant in the agency's jurisdiction, and BAAQMD routinely monitors the facility on site.

Emission-monitoring devices at the Lehigh facility measure air quality much differently than the mobile station at Monta Vista, Stevenson said. The devices at Lehigh directly measure what the facility is putting into the air. Data gathered from the mobile station will instead have to account for known spikes in activity at the recreation center, including increased car traffic at the park, grass mown and dirt kicked up from the park's baseball field.

The mobile station includes a trailer with air- quality monitoring instrumentation and a 30-foot-tall meteorological tower to collect atmospheric data.

The city council unanimously voted in May to partner with the air district to set up a station in the parking lot near the recreation center at Monta Vista Park, 22601 Voss Ave. The station will operate for a minimum of one year.

BAAQMD is supplying and operating the monitoring station. Similar mobile stations have been used in Benicia and Berkeley to measure air quality near a refinery and metal factor respectively, according to Stevenson.

He added that the testing is done for a year to gather regional averages and account for seasonal variations in the air. He also said the device could be used for more than a year, pending data.

The cement facility was a hot issue during the November 2009 city council election, despite the fact that Lehigh operates outside city jurisdiction on unincorporated Santa Clara County land. Nonetheless, the city has been taking a more active role in hearing resident concerns regarding the facility. The city has provided residents with forums and study sessions to learn more about how the facility operates

 "We welcome it," said Tim Matz, corporate director of environmental affairs for all Lehigh facilities, about the city's increased interest in Lehigh operations. "We live in this community and we want to know if there are concerns, what those concerns are and how we can address them as best as we can. We welcome that air monitor as well. We look forward to seeing the results in a year."

This is the second time in less than two years that an effort was made to monitor ambient air outside the Lehigh facility. Last year Stevens Creek Elementary School one of 62 schools selected by the Environmental Protection Agency to test and monitor air quality as part of a study on whether outdoor toxic air pollution poses health risks to students. Hexavalent chromium was the pollutant monitored in the area.

The school on Ainsworth Drive is a short drive from the Lehigh Permanente Cement plant at the edge of Stevens Creek Boulevard. The EPA's monitoring from June through September 2009 found that levels of hexavalent chromium in the air at the school were below levels of concern for short-term and long-term exposure.

For more information about the Stevens Creek Elementary School findings, visit www.epa.gov/schoolair. For more information about testing done at Monta Vista Park, visit gate1.baaqmd.gov and go to the air quality section.

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Title: Environmentalists meet Lafarge officials at info fair

By: Bob Green
Publication: Register-Star (Hudson, N.Y.)

Posted: 09/21/2010

Residents interested in modernization of the Lafarge Cement Plant in Ravena attended an information fair at Stuyvesant Town Hall last week.

A dozen company officials staffed tables with exhibits about the project timeline, the ongoing State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), and comparisons of emissions and economic impacts between the existing and the modernized plants, slated to operate in 2014.

The proposed modernization was announced in 2008. The new “dry” manufacturing process would reduce energy used per ton of output by about half, which alone would reduce emissions by a like amount. Still greater reductions were promised from state-of-the art controls that weren’t described in great detail at the time.

Air pollution from the existing plant has been in the headlines for years, whether during hearings over Lafarge’s plans to burn shredded tires at Ravena, or after Environmental Protection Administration data suggested the plant was a leading source of airborne mercury in the state and even the country.

But a flurry of recent regulatory developments have yielded more hard numbers than ever before about emissions from the proposed plant, and some of those were on display at the company-sponsored fair.

After years of foot dragging and citizen lawsuits pressing it to act, the EPA recently published standards for “Portland Cement” plants, known as the “Maximum Available Control Technology” (PC MACT). The regulation ensures that every plant must install and maintain the highest-performing emissions controls, with a grace period of three years for currently existing facilities.

This means that, where mercury is concerned for example, the new plant will be designed to meet the EPA-mandated standard of around 21 pounds of mercury per million tons of “clinker”, which is the major input in cement production.

That contrasts with the figure of 105 pounds of mercury per million tons of inputs for the current plant, according to company figures. At the new plant’s capacity of 2.8 million tons per year, that would mean 58 pounds of mercury emissions, compared to the actual reported number of 135 pounds for 2009, or 146 pounds in 2008.

From 2003 to 2006, mercury figures between 380 and 400 were reported, attracting the notice of environmentalists and regulators. In recent years, the plant has run at 60 to 70 percent of its rated capacity of 1.8 million tons of clinker per year.

In its recently-renewed Title V Air Permit, the existing plant became subject for the first time to caps on nitrogen oxide (NOX) and sulfur dioxide (SOX) emissions. According to company figures, the new plant will produce .4 pounds of SOX per ton of clinker, versus 13.7 now, and 1.5 pounds of NOX per ton of clinker, versus 6.04 now.

The company also entered into a consent decree earlier this year with the Department of Environmental Conservation, after some of its plants were found to have violated the Clean Air Act. Lafarge agreed to upgrade more than a dozen facilities. “I’ve got to give them credit” for agreeing to the most up-to-date control technologies, said DEC Region 4 Director Gene Kelly, who participated in the negotiations.

Kelly attended the information fair in Stuyvesant, and his agency has the next move in a SEQRA process that is now more than two years old. After numerous revisions, the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) may be only a few weeks away from being accepted by DEC for public review. With that, the period for public comments will open.

Susan Falzon is an accomplished opponent of air pollution in the Hudson Valley, and she struck up a chat with Kelly next to the desserts. She said the sometimes-customary comment period of 30 days would not be enough, given the complexity of the DEIS and the number of people who want to study it. Kelly did not seem to disagree when she suggested 90 days, saying only that whatever it was, “somebody will want it longer.”

The lowered temperature of that exchange and several others between company officials and long-time activists was a contrast to the tense atmosphere in the same room two summers ago, when Assemblyman Tim Gordon asked the company to voluntarily meet the public.

Few of the questions in August 2008 were friendly, but the gathering had an air of a reunion, as residents, some in Hawaiian shirts or tie-die, faced off against company and state officials, including Director Kelly.“You remember me from the tires,” said a veteran of the 2005 hearings, before sharing grave concerns for her community and family.

While a permit was granted in 2006 to burn tire-derived fuel (TDF), Environmental Manager John Reagan told the Register-Star this week that “Lafarge has not constructed the facilities to enable the plant to utilize TDF, nor do we intend to at this time.”

The plant enjoys plenty of support among elected officials in Ravena and the neighboring town of Coeymans, but opponents may have once dreamed the plant would be regulated out of existence. On this evening, the atmosphere seemed more one of healthy skepticism. “The devil is in the details. What we do for the next year is going to matter for a long time,” Falzon said of the regulatory process ahead.

Kelly preferred to accentuate the positive. “This is a great project, and it’s great for the people who live here,” he said. Lafarge says the modernization will “inject $170 million into the regional economy.”

Dr. Kathryn Schneider, an ornithologist and Stuyvesant resident, told Gordon’s 2008 meeting that the east side of the river sees few economic benefits from the plant, which is located around 10 miles northwest, on the Hudson’s opposite shore. The plume from the smokestack in Ravena is plainly visible in many parts of town, and most often seems to be headed straight for Columbia County, some residents say.

The company has created a website, lafargeravenafacts.com, where project documents including the DEIS will be posted “within 36 hours”, it says. As of this writing, there are no documents on file. The site also provides details on information fairs in Ravena on Wednesday and in Castleton on Thursday.

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Title: Cement plants face new regulations

By: Jonathan Bilyk
Publication: The New York Times

Posted: 09/20/2010

At first blush, the owners of the parent corporation of Illinois Cement Company don't know how a new series of federal environmental regulations will impact production at their plant in La Salle.

But the regulations will be a major topic of discussion within the ranks of Eagle Materials for the foreseeable future.

"We don't know if this will mean we need to change filter bags on some of the equipment more often, or do something much, much larger and more intricate and more expensive," said Robert Stewart, executive vice president for strategy, corporate development and communications, at the Dallas-based maker of building materials.

"Or it may be we need to do nothing at all."

And that, said Stewart, is why Eagle Materials will closely review the new regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued on emissions from cement plants.

The regulations, which take effect in 2013, limit the amount of an array of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. But they take aim largely at the emission of mercury.

Cement plants, or kilns, that produce Portland cement, a product commonly used in concrete and stucco, emit mercury when limestone and other so-called source materials are crushed and heated to make cement. The mercury is present naturally in the limestone when it is quarried.

Since cement plants use limestone and other materials from various sources, the amount of mercury contained in the stone, and thus emitted by the plant, can vary widely.

At the Illinois Cement Company kiln in La Salle, the amount of mercury emitted into the air — about 14 pounds per year, according to EPA reports — is substantially less than other cement plants elsewhere in the country, that can emit hundreds of pounds of mercury each year.

"Our relatively low emissions output is a function of our source material," said Stewart, of Illinois Cement Company. "Unfortunately, it's not because of some system we've put in place or actions we've taken."

Altogether, the EPA says cement plants make up the third largest contributor of mercury in the U.S., emitting more than 18,000 pounds of mercury into the environment last year.

Mercury is a toxic metal associated with a range of health problems, including brain damage in children and asthma and heart problems. Once emitted into the air, it eventually ends up in water, where it builds up in fish and aquatic animals. From there, it is consumed by people, usually when eating fish.

The EPA says the new rules will cut down on the amount of mercury emitted by cement kilns by more than 16,000 pounds, or about 92 percent, generating large healthy benefits that the agency says will more than offset any costs to the U.S. economy.

U.S. EPA spokeswoman Catherine Milbourne said the agency believes the new mercury rules will impact 158 of the 181 kilns operating in the U.S.

The new regulations were applauded by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, who earlier partnered to sue the EPA for failing to regulate the cement industry's emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Cement makers, however, fear the rules will take a steep toll on the U.S. cement industry.

The Portland Cement Association, an industry group based in Skokie, near Chicago, projects the new regulations will cost the cement industry billions of dollars and result in the closure of several plants that will not be able to meet the standards.

That, in turn, will lead to the U.S. relying more heavily on Portland cement imported from "developing nations," the PCA said in a statement in response to the new EPA rules.

Stewart said that could lead to an overall increase in the amount of mercury pollution on the planet, as developing nations, like China, may lack even basic environmental standards.

And Stewart echoed the PCA, noting the rules come at a bad time for his industry, as investment capital is constrained, making it more difficult for companies of any size to come up with the money they will need to invest in emissions control systems for their plants to meet the new regulations.

The Illinois Cement Company facility employs about 100 workers. Eagle Materials invested $65 million in improvements to the La Salle facility earlier this decade.

"We have three years to figure out what this means for us," Stewart said. "This is just part of the regulatory system."

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Title: Residents complain about cement dust

By: David A. Kostival
Publication: Reading Eagle Press

Posted: 09/16/2010

After hearing complaints from several residents Wednesday night, the Maidencreek Township supervisors voted to send a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection asking officials to reopen an investigation of the Evansville Plant of Lehigh Cement Co.

Four residents told the supervisors that their properties and automobiles are being covered with dust from the cement plant on a daily basis.

Township Manager Diane Hollenbach said the township had recently received correspondence from William Bortz from DEP stating an investigation of dust reports had been closed because there was no evidence of a dusting incident.

Resident Richard Olsen told the supervisors his patio furniture is covered in dust and the leaves at the top of his trees are dead from constant exposure to the dust.

Supervisors Chairman Claude Beaver told the residents they should contact DEP as well.

"DEP controls Lehigh Cement," he said. "We can't do anything about it."

The residents said the situation has gotten progressively worse over the past few weeks.

The supervisors also voted to send a letter to the plant manager at Lehigh Cement to express the residents' concerns about emissions from the plant.

The supervisors said they would forward copies of the letter to the Berks County commissioners and state lawmakers to make sure all government officials are aware that there is a health and safety concern regarding the cement company.

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Title: 3 named to quarry-complaint panel

By: David Mekeel
Publication: Reading Eagle Press

Posted: 09/15/2010

The Richmond Township supervisors have approved appointments for a board that will handle complaints stemming from an expanding quarry operation in the township.

The creation of the three-person commission was part of a deal between the township and Lehigh Cement Co. that ended a more than three-year battle over plans to expand a quarry along Eagle Road. The expansion was fought by a local residents group, which is currently challenging the pact in state court.

The agreement calls for the complaint board to include a resident, a township supervisor and a representative from Lehigh Cement.

At their meeting Monday, the supervisors appointed Supervisor Gary J. Angstadt and resident Nicholas Stoltzfus to the board and approved Lehigh Cement's selection of Charles Bortz, environmental engineer at the Evansville plant.

Lehigh Cement will have to approve the township's selections before the complaint board is finalized.

The supervisors also voted unanimously to submit a claim to the township's insurance provider to try to recoup some of the legal costs incurred during court battles over the quarry pact.

In other business, the supervisors voted unanimously to purchase a new heavy-duty paper shredder for $366.

The purchase and a new plan to destroy old documents caused concerns for some residents.

A handful of residents questioned how documents would be selected for destruction, pointing out that the township has been involved in some contentious battles like the quarry fight. Residents said they worried important documents that may be needed for court battles could be destroyed.

Solicitor Christopher J. Hartman said the township will follow the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission's records retention policy, which offers guidelines about what documents can and should be destroyed.

The township secretary will review and choose documents for shredding but they will only be shredded if the supervisors approve, he said.

"This is not an arbitrary process," Hartman said. "It's a time-consuming process, it's a thoughtful process."

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Title: EDITORIAL: Now that we know the new mercury rules, we can study the impact

By: Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. 
Publication: Morning Star (Wilmington, North Carolina)

Posted: 08/14/2010

After more than a year of foot-dragging, the federal government has come out with final mercury emission standards for Portland cement plants -- the type of plant Titan America wants to build along the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Under the new guidelines, Titan's plant would be allowed to emit about 46 pounds of mercury each year, based on the 2.19 million tons of cement it expects to produce annually. That's a far cry from the 263-pound limit noted on Titan's draft application for a North Carolina air quality permit. The wide difference illustrates a key reason why it would have been unwise for the state to issue a final permit.

Another reason, of course, is that a Superior Court judge has ruled that under state law, Titan must first complete a comprehensive environmental impact study to determine the plant's potential effects on air, water, soil and wetlands. Such a study is required by the Army Corps of Engineers anyway; the quibble has been whether the company can get the primary permit it needs to begin construction -- the air quality permit -- before that study is finished.

The judge said no.

Titan is appealing. But now we have a real benchmark for mercury emissions the plant would be expected to produce. The new rules come on the heels of Progress Energy's plans to replace the coal-fired plant with one that burns more environmentally friendly natural gas. When that happens, overall mercury emissions will be significantly reduced in the region even if Titan gets an air permit.

But the Northeast Cape Fear River already has high contents of mercury, and environmentalists worry that it can't take any more. It's a legitimate concern. A study paid for by Titan said mercury wouldn't be a problem. Who's right? The comprehensive impact study may help answer that.

It's unreasonable to say that we won't allow any industries into our county -- not if we expect to build jobs and our tax base. But when an industry seeks a license to disperse potentially harmful substances into our air, water and soil, we need to know the full impact on our environment before it is invited to set up shop.

The obvious question is how Titan plans to meet the new standards. And environmental concerns don't stop when emissions do, as the discussion over what will happen to the concentrated toxic metals in Sutton plant's coal-ash ponds illustrates.

Industries come and go, but those who live here must deal with the environmental fallout even after a business is gone. Due diligence dictates that the potential risks be identified and considered before an industry takes up residence in our home.

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Title: Lehigh Cement unveils plan to reduce emissions by 25 percent

By: Matt Wilson
Publication: San Jose Mercury News & Cupertino Courier

Posted: 07/01/2010

Lehigh Permanente cement plant announced June 23 that it has installed equipment to reduce mercury emissions by 25 percent.

The move is in preparation for tough new federal emission standards that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce by Aug. 3. The standards, which will set the nation's first limits on mercury emissions from existing cement plant kilns, could require some facilities to cut mercury emissions by more than 80 percent by August 2013.

Lehigh officials are unsure now just how much further the cement plant on Stevens Creek Boulevard will have to curb emissions. Tim Matz, director of environamental affairs for Lehigh, said the company is certain, however, that the 25 percent reduction will not address all of the EPA's forthcoming rules.

Matz, who is also member of the Portland Cement Association, a group that meets regularly with the EPA to discuss the new standards, said three years is the absolute maximum amount of time the EPA could give cement producers to comply with the new standards.

Lehigh's new system takes mercury, a natural component of cement production, and binds it with limestone particles, essentially trapping the mercury inside the finished cement product rather than emitting it into the air. The system was tested and installed over the last few months.

The company has been working the last two years preparing and testing the technology, according to plant manager Henrik Wesseling who has worked at the plant since 2008.

"This project has been my top priority since my first day on the job," Wesseling said.

The announcement of better emission controls comes less than three months after the EPA issued a Notice of Violation to the cement plant for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act. According to the EPA, Lehigh made illegal physical changes to its plant operations in the 1990s that could have resulted in increased emissions like nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Lehigh officials said the changes were made before Lehigh took over the operations and are looking into the situation.

The EPA violation could result in civil and possibly criminal penalties pending the investigation.

Many nearby neighbors have been critical of the cement plant that has operated there since 1939, saying they are fearful of the affect that possible emissions could have on their health.

Resident Bill Almon, who heads the Lehigh watchdog group Quarry No, said the community is worried about mercury lingering in the environment.

"The goal should be that no mercury falls on residents but as Lehigh states, it is in the limestone. [It is] hard to get rid of. Hopefully the 25 percent reduction will actually occur," Almon said.

Cupertino Mayor Kris Wang was optimistic about the announcement.

"This marks an important step for Lehigh in meeting new, stricter, clean air requirements and good news for all of us breathing the air in Cupertino," Wang said. "I applaud their efforts to put innovative clean-air technology to work and thank them for helping to bring creative new solutions to their work in our community."

The Cupertino City Council is scheduled to review a report from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and discuss air quality regulation, standards and monitoring issues relating to Lehigh Cement during a study session July 20 at 3 p.m. at the Cupertino Community Center.

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Title: Cupertino council votes to install air monitor near Lehigh Cement plan

By: Matt Wilson
Publication: San Jose Mercury News & Cupertino Courier
Posted: 05/19/2010 

A recent surge in public pressure from residents regarding the air quality in neighborhoods around the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant has prompted the city to let the Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up an air monitoring station about two miles from the facility.

The city council unanimously voted May 18 to let the air district set up a station in the parking lot at Monta Vista Park, 22601 Voss Ave.  The station will operate for a minimum of one year.

BAAQMD will supply and operate the monitoring device.

City Manager David Knapp said Monta Vista Park is the preferred choice as it is the closest piece of city-owned land near the facility. Knapp told the Courier in March that more information will be good for the public. Any monitoring can help calm resident fears or reveal unknown air quality issues that need further investigation by BAAQMD, he said.

On April 29, the city and BAAQMD held a neighborhood meeting to chat with residents about the proposed station. About 40 people attended and voiced support for the plan.

The air district is the lead public agency entrusted with regulating stationary sources of air pollution in the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area. The Lehigh facility is the only cement plant in the agency's jurisdiction. Since the cement and quarry facilities are outside the city's borders, monitoring air is one of the few direct things Cupertino city leaders can do to address resident concerns over air quality.

Typical air monitoring devices by BAAQMD normally are installed directly at the cement facility. This will be a remote device measuring ambient air.

Eric Stevenson, an air-monitoring manager with BAAQMD told the Courier in March that this makes it difficult to determine the exact origin of any potential pollutants. The readings represent what a neighborhood is exposed to, but not where the pollutants are coming from.

The device will still be able to look for elevated levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, non-methane organic carbon ozone and sulfur dioxide. These levels will be reported in real-time to BAAQMD's website. The station will also gather samples of metals, gasses and particulate matter, which will be analyzed in a laboratory every four months.

However, any data pulled will have to account for known spikes in activity at the recreation center, including increased car traffic at the park, grass mowing and dirt kicked up from the park's baseball field.

The station will be enclosed an 11-foot by 24-foot trailer and will house a 30-foot meteorological tower, which will measure wind direction and speed to assist BAAQMD in determining the source of pollutants.

Similar mobile stations have been used in Benicia and Berkeley, according to Cupertino city staff.

The cement plant has become an increasingly popular issue of concern among a regular group of residents the past six months. Resident Cathy Helgerson, a frequent Lehigh critic, spoke at the council meeting and insisted that the city and BAQQMD work with more agencies to ensure timely and accurate data.

"I'm very concerned that the EPA is not involved. The fact of the matter is we need a clear picture of how things are calculated and we don't want to wait a whole year for this monitoring. We need to be notified as time goes on," she said. "This testing is very crucial and it's never been done before and we need to make sure that it is done right. The city needs to make sure that it's done right."

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Title: EPA Cooperative Activities in China

By: Mark Kasman
Publication: Environmental Protection Agency
Posted: 04/03/2010

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been collaborating with its counterpart, China's Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), now Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), on environmental issues for over two decades. EPA has collaborated or is collaborating with China to:

Save Energy and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

EPA’s work with China includes projects that save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including energy efficiency; the capture and use of methane; expansion of wind power; and reductions of perfluorocarbon (PFC) emissions from the primary aluminum sector.

EPA’s energy efficiency work with China has focused on energy efficient buildings and voluntary labeling.

  • Voluntary Energy Efficiency Labeling. EPA assisted China with voluntary labeling in 10 product categories, including computers, monitors, and televisions. The voluntary labels of these products could reduce GHG emissions by 70 million tons of CO2 over 10 years, cumulatively. Cooperation also focused on the harmonization of test procedures, performance levels, and labels between EPA’s ENERGY STAR and China.

  • Energy Efficient Buildings. EPA partnered with China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development to help China determine definitions and relevant comparisons for energy efficient buildings in China,” using lessons from EPA’s ENERGY STAR Buildings benchmarking program.

  • Existing building performance is the foundation for green building certification in both new and existing buildings. Through the eeBuildings program, EPA implemented training and capacity building programs to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings, using no-cost or low-cost methods. These lessons reached hundreds of Chinese property managers, property owners and property management companies.

EPA’s Methane to Markets Partnership (M2M) is an international initiative that advances the recovery and use of methane as a clean energy source. EPA has worked with China to capture and use methane from agriculture, coal mining, and landfills.

  • China became a charter M2M partner in November 2004, and is an active participant in the steering committee and three subcommittees (Agriculture, Coal and Landfill).

  • China has made significant contributions to the Partnership over the years, highlighted by their hosting (along with EPA) of the M2M Partnership Expo in Beijing, China in Oct 2007. Over 750 attendees from more than 30 countries participated in the Expo. NDRC Vice Minister Xie was a plenary speaker at this event.

To expand the capacity of grid-connected wind power in China, the Wind Technology Partnership developed a comprehensive market expansion strategy for grid-connected Wind Power in China.

  • The strategy provided input into China’s first national renewable energy law, which was promulgated in 2005.

  • In its final year (2007), the WTP completed a pilot program in Zhangbei, one of the highest wind potential regions of China.

China is the largest producer of primary aluminum in the world. Under the Aluminum Task Force of the Asia Pacific Partnership, EPA is the project manager for efforts for the reduction of perfluorocarbon (PFC) emissions from the primary aluminum sector.

  • PFCs are extremely potent and persistent greenhouse gases that are inadvertent production by-products from the smelting process.

  • Emissions can be reduced primarily through improved process management, and with some limited opportunities for technology upgrades.

  • EPA is collaborating with the Chinese Nonferrous Metals Industry Association (CNIA), as well as with APP Partners from industry and government in the United States and Australia, to complete a series of training and PFC inventory and measurement activities for Chinese smelters operators.

  • Project activities in 2008 included a PFC Management Study Tour in Australia, completion of a PFC Management Demonstration Projects at two Chinese smelters, signing an MOU with CNIA, and completing PFC measurements at five smelters in China.

Reduce Threats to Health Caused by Pollution

To reduce threats to health caused by pollution, EPA and China are partnering on projects to develop a sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions trading program; improve the efficiency and reduce emissions from cement kilns; reduce exposure to indoor air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from cooking and heating with traditional fuels; and reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

In one collaborative project, EPA is working to address sulfur dioxide emissions through:

  • Development of a new sulfur dioxide emissions trading program, following the completion of the China-US Joint Economic Study (JES) on energy conservation and emission reduction in the power sector.

  • Efforts are underway to design and implement the trading program for China's coal-burning power plants, as well as to build the institutions and infrastructure for cap and trade programs concerning other pollutants.

EPA is working with agencies and non-profit organizations in China to demonstrate effective approaches to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with traditional fuels, by promoting alternative energy and introducing cleaner, more efficient and affordable cooking and heating stoves.

  • Efforts in 2003 - 2008 resulted in 2.4 million households adopting cleaner cooking practices, improving the lives of 18.4 million people.

  • In addition, each improved stove reduces an estimated two to four tons of carbon dioxide, as well as black carbon.

To reduce emissions from the transportation sector, EPA and MEP pursue an integrated set of projects promoting clean fuels and vehicles in China. EPA is undertaking these efforts in part through participation in the WSSD-launched Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), which MEP formally joined in 2007. Activities include:

  • Diesel retrofit demonstration project in Beijing;

  • Assistance with compliance and management to ensure that fuels and vehicles meet respective standards;

  • Voluntary measures to reduce diesel emissions from ships and other port sources in Shanghai, one of the world’s busiest ports; and

  • Advancement of low sulfur fuel policy in China.

Efforts leading toward the more efficient production of cement, and to allow for more comprehensive management of dioxins and furans from cement kilns.

  • China produces nearly half of the world’s cement.

  • In accord with the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, EPA assisted MEP to inventory POPs from the cement sector, and to develop and pilot test Best Available Techniques/Best Environmental Practices (BAT/BEP) to reduce POPs emissions by improving kiln combustion efficiency.

  • These tests demonstrated over 90% reduction in POPs, accompanied by fuel savings and reduced CO2 emissions.

  • In July 2009, MEP launched regional workshops to promote the findings of the project and the BAT/BEP to cement plants nationwide.

  • Additionally, a bilateral coalition of US and Chinese organizations is developing a comprehensive national program to improve energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative fuels and raw materials, and reduce emissions from China’s cement sector.

Create the Foundation for Long-Term Environmental Sustainability

China and the United States are collaborating on projects which will create the foundation for long-term environmental sustainability, including developing procedures for better management of air quality; improving China’s national GHG inventory; developing Integrated Environmental Strategies to implement co-benefits policies; and the development, implementation and enforcement of strong and effective environmental laws.

Since 2005, MEP and EPA have been co-sponsoring an annual Regional Air Quality Management (RAQM) Conference, to educate national, regional, and local environmental authorities, as well as key officials from the private sector, in:

  • the development and use of an emissions inventory,

  • the design and use of an ambient monitoring network,

  • local and regional air quality modeling,

  • development of multipollutant control strategies,

  • development of regulations, and

  • public participation and outreach at the national and local levels.

Previous RAQM conferences have focused on sulfur oxides, particulate matter, regional haze and multipollutant control strategies. The fifth RAQM conference is planned for October 26-27, 2009 in Beijing.

China has made considerable progress in preparing GHG inventories that are consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines. However, to improve the quality of their national GHG inventories, gaps in institutional capacity and data quality still need to be addressed. EPA’s key activities with China include:

  • improving national inventory management systems and training Chinese experts on developing a national GHG inventory system;

  • improving inventory management and data inputs in key sectors such as land-use and agriculture; and

  • China-specific training on Agriculture and Land Use through a series of in-country training workshops.

EPA's Integrated Environmental Strategies (IES) program is working with China to evaluate the public health, economic, and environmental benefits of integrated planning, to address both global greenhouse gas emissions and local environmental concerns.

  • The IES program works to quantify GHG co-benefits of alternative pollution reduction policies and build capacity to develop, analyze, promote and implement policies that reduce GHGs, improve air quality and protect public health.

  • IES Assessments, conducted with local technical institutions in conjunction with MEP, have been completed for Shanghai and Beijing.

  • Two of EPA’s Models -- 3/Community Multi-scale Air Quality model (CMAQ) and Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) -- were used jointly for the first time in EPA's IES National Assessment in China.

  • EPA, MEP’s Policy Research Center for Environment and Economics (PRCEE), and China’s Development Research Council (DRC), have modeled the cost effectiveness of policies and programs to reduce energy intensity and sulfur dioxide emissions, while simultaneously reducing GHG emissions.

  • EPA is currently cooperating with NDRC on an analysis related to China’s national climate change strategy.

China now has a broad range of environmental laws and environmental standards. However, there are still significant gaps, including implementation and enforcement.

  • EPA is cooperating with China to improve its environmental laws, institutions, implementation, and enforcement.

  • EPA’s assistance in ensuring enforceable requirements at all levels of government, in the form of both regulations and permits, will complement efforts to address climate change, as well as other environmental challenges.

Learn more:

U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED)

History of EPA's Collaboration with China

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Title: AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA

By: Jeffrey Hays
Publication: FactsandDetails.com
Posted: 04/01/2010 (Last Updated)

AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA

  • According to the World Bank 16 of the worlds’s 20 cities with the worst air are in China. According to Chinese government sources, about a fifth of urban Chinese breath heavily polluted air. Many places smell like high-sulfur coal and leaded gasoline. Only a third of the 340 Chinese cities that are monitored meet China’s own pollution standards.

  • The air pollution and smog in Beijing and Shanghai are sometimes so bad that the airports are shut down because of poor visibility. The air quality of Beijing is 16 times worse than New York City. Sometimes you can't even see building a few blocks away and blue sky is a rare sight. In Shanghai sometimes you can't see the street from the 5th floor window. Fresh air tours to the countryside are very popular.

  • Only 1 percent of the China’s 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe by European Union standards according to a World Bank study. Air pollution is particularly bad in the rust belt areas of northeastern China. A study done by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the amount of airborne suspended particulates in northern China are almost 20 times what WHO considers a safe level.

  • Space shuttle astronaut Jay Apt wrote in National Geographic, "many of the great coastal cites of China hide from our cameras under a...blanket of smoke from soft-coal fires." The northeast industrial town of Benxi is so polluted that it once disappeared from satellite photos. Its residents have the highest rate of lung disease in China.

  • Coal is the number once source of air pollution in China. China gets 80 percent of electricity and 70 percent its total energy from coal, much of it polluting high-sulphur coal. Around six million tons of coal is burned everyday to power factories, heat homes and cook meals. Expanding car ownership, heavy traffic and low-grade gasoline have made cars a leading contributor to the air pollution problem in Chinese cities.

  • A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center before the 2008 Olympics found that 74 percent of the Chinese interviewed said they were concerned about air pollution.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Photo Essay on Air Pollution erenlai.com ; World Resources Report wri.org ; Blog on Pollution in Beijing pollution-china.com ; Book: The River Runs Black by Elizabeth C. Economy (Cornell, 2004) is one of the best recently-written books on China’s environmental problems. In his book China on the Edge: the Crisis of Ecology and Development in China, the Chinese intellectual He Bochun argues that in many ways China's environmental problems have already reached catastrophic levels.

On the Environment: China Environmental News Blog china-environmental-news.blogspot.com ; China.Org (Chinese Government Environmental News china.org.cn/english/environment ; New York Times Multimedia Series on Pollution in China nytimes.com ; China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) english.mep.gov.cn ; EIN News Service’s China Environment News einnews.com/china/newsfeed-china-environment Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) cepf.org.cn/cepf_english ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Beijing Energy Network (a Chinese grassroots environmental group) greenleapforward.com ; Greenpeace China greenpeace.org/china/en ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles chinadigitaltimes.net ; Brief History of Chinese Environment planetark.com ; Article on Wetlands Degradation library.utoronto.ca ; Useful But Dated Source List on te Environment and China newton.uor.edu ; China Environmental Forum at the Wilson Center wilsoncenter.org ; International Fund for China’s Environment ifce.org ; China Watch worldwatch.org ; China Environmental law Blog chinaenvironmentallaw.com ; World Resources Institute wri.org ; China Environmental Industry Network cein.net

Links in this Website: ENVIRONMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER SHORTAGES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEFORESTATION AND DESERTIFICATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GARBAGE AND RECYCLING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;ENVIRONMENT, GOVERNMENT POLICY AND FIGHTING POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND PROTESTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAND AND GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEATHER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DAMS AND HYDRO POWER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THREE GORGES AND THREE GORGES DAM Factsanddetails.com/China ; COAL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NUCLEAR POWER AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Kinds of Air Pollution in China

  • Air pollution includes particles of soot, organic hazardous material, heavy metals, acid aerosols and dust. The smaller particles are more dangerous because they are more easily inhaled. Judged as the most dangerous for health, suspended particulates are caused mainly by coal and car exhaust. In the cities it is also caused by construction. In the spring it is caused by dust from the sand and dust storms in the Gobi.

  • Particulate matter, which includes dust, soot aerosol particles less than 10 microns in size is a major source of air pollution. Particulate levels are measured in micrograms be cubic meter of air. In United States levels about 50 micrograms are considered unsafe. In Europe the levels are around 40 micrograms. In Beijing that average level is 141.

  • China is the world’s leading source of sulfur dioxide. Levels of the pollutant in the air are comparable to Japan in the 1970s when air pollution was a major problem there. Emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal and fuel oil can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as acid rain. Sulfur dioxide emissions alone are though to cause damage equal to 12 percent of China’s GNP.

  • China’s emissions of nitrogen oxide—the main cause of urban smog—have increased 3.8 percent a year for 25 years. Unless things are dramatically changed nitrogen oxide emissions in China will double by 2020. Nitrogen oxide is released by power plants, heavy industry and cars.

  • Nitrogen dioxide is not a serious problem. Levels of the pollutant in China are comparable to those in Japan. Even so levels in Beijing rose 50 percent between 1996 and 2006.

  • There are also problems with ozone and paticulates measuring more than 2.5 microns. Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides combine with hydrocarbons emitted by vehicles and refineries. It affects photosynthesis. High ozone levels recorded in the lower Yangtze basin are thought to be linked o crops yields that are 25 percent lower than those in unpolluted areas.

Coal, Acid Rain and Air Pollution in China

  • Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the main pollutants that cause acid rain. The former is cause when sulphur emitted from coal-fired power stations and commercial installations mixes with oxygen. The latter is produced when nitrogen emitted from vehicles and power stations and other sources combines with oxygen. Acid rain has at least one positive point. It reduces the amount of methane.

  • See Coal, Energy, Education Health...

  • Vaclav Smil, a Canadian expert on the Chinese environment from the University of Manitoba, told the New York Times, the Chinese “have this coal; they have to use it....Much of the coal is now coming from these very small coal mines, but there is no sorting, no cleaning or washing and this kind of coal generates a tremendous amount of pollution."

  • China is the world’s top producer of airborne sulfur dioxide and particulate matter from coal combustion. Chinese factories and power plants spewed out 25.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide, the chemical that causes acid ran, in 2005, up 27 percent from 2000. By contrast the United States produced about 11 million tons. Levels of sulphur dioxide emissions in China are double what are regarded safe. Coal-burring power stations and coking plants are the main sulfur dioxide producers.

  • One survey found that a third of mainland China is regularly soaked in acid rain and half of the cities and counties surveyed receive at least some acid rain. In some places every rainy day is an acid rain day and limestone buildings are dissolving in the acid air. The Guangdong-Guangxi-Guizhou-Sichuan basin south of the Yangtze is the largest single area in the world affected by acid rain pollution. A study in the early 2000s found that one third of crops in the Chongqing area had been damaged by acid rain. China sends some its acid rain abroad. See Below

Coal and the Environment

  • The production of coal-fired plants has slowed to some degree. They are no longer being produced at the rate of one a week and now add 80 gigawatts of power a year, down from 100 gigawatts a few years earlier.

  • It is estimated that the use of cheap coal cost China $248 billion, the equivalent of 7.1 percent of GDP, in 2007 through environmental damage, strains on the health care system and manipulation of commodity prices. The figure was arrived at by the Energy Foundation and the WWF by taking into consideration things like lost income from those sickened by coal pollution.

  • Coal has been tied to a number of health problems. In towns like Gaojiagao in Shanxi it has been linked with a high number of birth defects such neural tube defects, additional fingers and toes, cleft pallets and congenital heart disease and mental retardation.

Coal, Underground Coal Fires and Tire Fires in China

  • Many places still burn large amounts of coal for heating. Coal produces thick, smoggy smoke. High sulphur coal is particularly nasty. It produces a rotten egg smell.

  • Underground coal fires are consuming 20 to 30 million tons of coal a year, pumping tons of ash, carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and sulfur compounds into the atmosphere. Some of the fires have been burning for centuries. By one count there are 56 underground coals fire currently burning in China. Coal fires produce huge amounts of harmful carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The fires produce as much carbon monoxide each year as all the cars in the United States.

  • The underground coal fires are revealed by fumes and smoke that pour from cracks in the earth. The Wude coal field in Inner Mongolia, one of China’s largest coal fields, is the home of China’s largest coal fire and some argue one of the world’s worst environmental disasters. Sixteen of China’s coal fires burn here, spewing out acrid clouds of sulfur dioxide.

  • The fires at the Wude field are at a depth of between 110 to 220 feet. They advance about 100 feet a year. An official in charge of putting the fires at Wude told Smithsonian magazine: “An underground coal fire is like a dragon. We can sense the dragon’s tail, that is, the area already burned. But satellite images show that the hottest, densest parts are far below the surface, or the dragon’s head. We can predict the path, and prepare to chop off its head.”

  • Workers try to extinguish the fires by starving them of oxygen by burying them under a 3-foot-layer of dirt. Pouring water on them produces dangerous methane gas, so workers pour a water-clay slurry into cracks instead of water if a dousing strategy is employed. Even when the fires are extinguished the ground can take years to cool down.

  • Only 10 percent of China’s coal underground fires are being fought. They pose little immediate threat other than polluting the air in fairly remote places and cutting off access to some coal supplies. There have been some successes. In 2003, a centuries-old fire was extinguished near Urumqi after a four year battle.

  • In 2009, a number of coal fires, one of which had been burning for 60 years, were put out in Xinjiang. The fires, which has been caused illegal mining and spontaneous combustion, had spread to more than 900,000 square meters and consumed 10 million tons of coal a year. The fires were put out through a coordinated plan of drilling, water injection and using earth to cut off oxygen.

  • In Wuhan in Hubei Province old tires and asphalt are used as fuel to fire pottery kilns, creating some nasty pollution in the process.

Cement Plants and Pollution in China

  • Cement plants are among the biggest air pollution producers in China. They produce lots of dust in various sizes. They also need a lot of energy—heat of more than 2,600 degrees F from 400 pounds of coal for each ton of cement—to convert the limestone and other materials into the intermediate form of cement called “clinker.” Production generates huge amounts of heat that is released into the air.

  • To reduce coal transportation costs cement plants are often built in places that have a supply of coal nearby. Mining, coal processing and cement making produce high levels of pollution. Areas with cement plants can often be determined from many kilometers away by the grayish color of the air and the layers of dust on trees and the road.

  • Advanced cement plants recycle heat normally released into the air and use it to run turbines that generate electric power. The power then can be used to run the plants. These plants require 60 percent less energy, enough to cover the millions of dollars needed to build the advance plant, which take about in four years to construct. The technology for these system is supplied by the Chinese firm Dalian East Energy Development, which exports the technoloy to countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Pakistan and plans to use similar technology on steel plants in the future.

Effects of Air Pollution in China

  • The engines of Chinese airlines have to be overhauled and replaced more frequently than elsewhere because operating in Chinese air corrodes the turbine blades faster.

  • In Tangshan, a large industrial, coastal city 125 miles east of Beijing, people can tell which way the wind is blowing by what color the smog is. Grayish color smog comes from iron deposits blown from steel mills to the south; whitish smog comes from chemical factories to the east; and black dust comes from the coal and coking plant to the west. Tangshan itself is home to many dirty factories and plants such as Beijing Coking-Chemical Plant and Capital Iron and Steel, both of which were relocated to Tangshan from Beijing to reduce pollution there.

  • The Beijing Coking-Chemical Plant was one of the Beijing worst polluters until it was relocated in 2006. At it peak it employed 10,000 workers and powered most of the city’s stoves and heating system. Chinese leaders were proud of the fact that smoke for the factory’s six chimneys never stopped in its 47-year history. After it was moved to Tangshan people that used to live near it in Beijing said it was the first time they could hang laundry outside without worrying about their clothes getting covered with black coal dust.

Health Problems and Air Pollution in China

  • China has the world highest number of deaths attributed to air pollution. According to Chinese government statistics 300,000 die each year from ambient air pollution, mostly from heart disease and lung cancer. An additional 110,000 die from illnesses related to indoor pollution from poorly ventilated wood and coal stoves and toxic fumes from shoddy construction material. The air pollution death figure is expect to rise to 380,000 in 2010 and 550,000 in 2020. The Chinese government has calculated that if the air quality in 210 medium and large cities were to be improved from “polluted” to “good” levels 178,000 lives could be saved.

  • Washington Post writer John Pomfret was based in Beijing for many years. When his family moved to Los Angeles afterwards his son’s asthma attacks and chronic chest infections stopped. When asked why he moved to Los Angeles he jokingly said “for the air.”

  • It has been reasoned that all forms of air pollution are 10 times more damaging to health than all forms of water pollution. According to the World Bank and WHO between 300,000 and 350,000 people die from outdoor air pollution and about 300,000 die from inside air pollution. Some think the true figure is much higher. Some estimate that indoor air pollution kills more than 700,000 people a year. The fine particles produced by coal-fired stoves exacerbates respiratory problems and is especially damaging to children’s lungs functions.

  • Air pollution causes premature births, low-birth weight babies, and depresses lungs functioning in otherwise healthy people. It has also been blamed for China's rising rates of cancer. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of death in China. In the last five years the number of deaths from the disease has risen 18.5 percent to 34 per 100,000 people.

  • Air pollution is also linked with a variety of respiratory aliments. Around some factories the asthma rate is 5 percent. It is estimated that 26 percent of all deaths in China are caused by respiratory illnesses (compared with 2 or 3 percent in the U.S.). Many people in Beijing and Shanghai get hacking coughs. In rural areas, respiratory disease is the number one killer. It is impossible to say how many are caused by air pollution though and how many are caused by smoking or some other cause.

  • Air pollution is believed to have significantly reduced crop production. Studies based on satellite imagery and ground-based observation suggest that particles of suspended pollutants scatter sun light over two thirds of eastern China resulting in harvests of rice and winter wheat that may be 5 to 30 percent less than if there was no pollution.

Chinese Cities with Bad Air Pollution

  • Three Chinese cities—Linfen, Lanzhou and Urumqi—made the top 10 list of cities in the world with the worst air pollution by the Blacksmith Institute Other cities with the bad air pollution include Golmud, Shijiazhuang, Shizuishan, Datong, Taiyuan, Jilin, Hechi and Zhuzhou. Most of these cities are in the north, where blowing dust combines with industrial pollutants.

  • Chinese cities usually rank high in international studies of pollution. Levels of suspended particles: (micrograms per cubic meter, 1995): Beijing (370); Shanghai (246); Chongqing (322); Taiyuan (568); Bangkok (200); Los Angeles (76); New York (59); Tokyo (55).

  • Levels of sulfur dioxide (micrograms per cubic meter, 1995): Beijing (94); Shanghai (53); Chongqing (338); Taiyuan (424); Bangkok (13); Los Angeles (8); New York (26); Tokyo (22).

  • Levels of particles of smoke in Asian cities (micrograms per cubic meter from 1987 to 1990): Calcutta (400); Beijing (380); Jakarta (280); Hong Kong (120); Bangkok (100); Manila (95); Tokyo (50); New York (60).

  • Even in remote areas air pollution levels can be alarmingly high. On the nice new highway between Urumqi and Turpan in Xinjiang it s sometimes difficult to make out the wonderful scenery because brownish smoke produced by natural gas refineries and coal plants.

Air Pollution in Lanzhou

  • A study by the Washington-based World Resources Institute in the late 1990s reported that nine of the ten cities with the world's worst air pollution were in China. At the top of the list was the northern city of Lanzhou in Gansu Province.

  • The amount of suspended particles in Lanzhou is twice that of Beijing and 10 times that of Los Angeles. Simply breathing is said to be equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The pollution is often so bad that people can feel the grit in their noises and between their teeth and routinely develop sore throats, headaches and sinus problems. When children are asked what color the sky is, they often reply: "White, sometimes yellow."

  • The pollution is caused by coal smoke, car exhaust, pollutants released by petrochemical, metal and heavy industry factories and dust blown from the arid yellow mountains that surround the city. The factories in Lanzhou were placed there in accordance with a plan by Mao to locate heavy industry factories in western China where he thought they would less vulnerable to nuclear attack.

  • The pollution is especially bad because atmospheric conditions create layers of dense air that trap the pollutants and Lanzhou is located in valley surrounded by mountains that prevent winds from blowing the pollutants away. Shutting down some state-owned factories has helped reduce some of the air pollution there.

Chinese Air Pollution Goes Abroad

  • Chinese pollution is not just a local phenomena but also a regional and global one. During the spring there are fierce dust and sand storms in the Gobi desert and northern and western China. As the dust and sand are blown eastward by westerly winds, they pick up air pollution particles, especially over heavily industrialized areas in northeast China like Shenyang, and carry them further east into tp South Korea and Japan and further east. A group called Project Asia Brown Cloud—using aircraft and ground stations in China, South Korea and Japan—have observed that clouds of industrialized pollution that originate in Shenyang.and merging with dust and sand clouds that originate in the Gobi Desert and Xinjiang

  • Across large swath of Asia, especially in China, you can find two-mile-thick blankets of sulfates, soot, organic compounds, dust, fly ash and other materials. Particularly worrisome is airborne mercury, a dangerous toxin released from coal-burning power and industrial plants. According to emission researchers, half the world’s man-made mercury emissions come form Asia, with China being the main source.

  • By some estimates China accounts for between 25 percent and 28 percent of global mercury emissions. Mercury can accumulate in the atmosphere and travel thousands of kilometers before being brought to earth by rainfall. Some of its ends up in water where it enters the food chain and accumulates in fish that are sometimes eaten by people. Acid from Chinese industrial air pollution has been blamed for damaging trees in the mountains of northern Japan. Much of is from factories in the coal-rich areas of Shanxi Province.

  • People in Korea and Japan complain that acid rain that falls on them is created by emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides from coal-burning plants in northern China. South Koreans and Japanese also complain that the winds that carry the sulfur and nitrogen oxides also pick up heavy metals and carcinogens and dump them in their countries. Deaths attributed to yellow-sand-caused cardiovascular and respiratory diseases have been reported in South Korea. Some schools in Japan and South Korea have reduced their activities because of pollution and yellow dust from China.

  • The Japanese professor Fumitaka Yanagisawa said that when he presented a paper at a Chinese university that suggested some pollution in Japan originated in China he was booed by the audience and said “even now it’s sort of taboo to mention cross-border pollution when I’m invited to give a speech in China.” Reiko Sodeno, of the Japanese environmental ministry, told AFP, “It will have adverse affects if we push China too much on cross-border pollution...Blaming other countries wouldn’t help to solve the problem, as it only hurts national pride.”

Chinese Air Pollution Reaches the United States

  • Increasing amounts of pollution are being blown across the Pacific Ocean to North America. Pollutants carried by the jet stream can reach the United States in days. Pollutants from Asia reaching the United States are rising at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent a year. By some estimates 25 percent of the air pollution in Los Angeles comes from China. American heath officials find this figure alarming when is tacked onto pollution that already exist in the United States.

  • Increases in amounts of ozone and fine particulate matter found in the air in the United States is blamed on “transpollution” from China. Scientists estimate that in 2010, on third of the ozone in Los Angeles will originate in Asia, much of it in China. Asian soot has been blamed for speeding up the thinning of Arctic ice and other polar environmental changes.

  • Soot, dust and chemical pollutants from China have been captured in a weather observation stations on the summit of Mount Bachelor in Cascade Range in Oregon. Soot, dust, ozone and nitrous oxides can be detected by satellites moving across the Pacific. But just as the Americas worry about air pollution from Asia, Europeans worry about pollution carried by winds from the Americans and Asians worry about pollution carried by winds from Europe.

Combating Air Pollution in China

  • To reduce air pollution in Beijing a license plate system similar to the one used in the 2008 Olympics was put in place. According to the system cars with license plate numbers ending in 0 or 5 would have to stay off the road on Monday. Those with license plate numbers ending in 1 or 6 would have to stay off the road on Tuesday, those with 2 and 7 would stay off on Wednesday and so on through the five weekdays. The measures were credited with reducing pollution by 10 percent.

  • In Beijing and other cities electric lines have been brought to local neighborhood and people there have been encouraged to switch from coal-briquette-heated stoves to electric heaters. To make the change easier to accept the government covers two thirds of the cost of the heaters. One Beijing resident told the Times of London he favored the change, saying, “They say it is may be a little more expensive overall than coal, but it is a price I don’t mind paying to get our blue skies back.”

  • The production of coal-fired plants has slowed to some degree. They are no longer being produced at the rate of one a week and now add 80 gigawatts of power a year, down from 100 gigawatts a few years earlier.

  • China has phased out leaded gasoline, shut down the dirtiest factories, toughened up anti-pollution laws, established laws for cars to install catalytic convertors. Many upper and middle calls families in Beijing and other cities have air purifiers.

  • The primary solution to China’s air problem is coming up with clean energy sources and reducing reliance on coal. According to a U.N. report, "By they year 2020 large-scale adoption of low-carbon energy sources such as a hydro, nuclear, gas, biomass, solar and wind technologies could displace substantial quantity of coal, particularly for electric generation.”

  • Another solution is raising energy prices. Electricity prices in China are half of those in developed countries. A U.N. energy expert told the New York Times, "Liberalizing energy prices would be the single most effective policy to promote energy efficiency.”

  • Some cities have set up emission trading programs in which plants that use pollution control devises sell emission “credits” to places that have to spend more to reduce pollution.

  • Activists, lawyers and journalists have to some degree been given a green light by the government to raise public awareness about pollution and go after polluters.

  • In September 2007, 100 Chinese cities , including Beijing, staged a “car free day.” The effort was largely ignored as middle class Chinese went about their chores using family cars.

  • Car Ban, See Olympics 2008, Arts, Media, Sports

  • See Automobiles, Transportation, Government and Public Services.

Cleaning Up Coal-Related Pollution in China

  • Measures taken by China to reduce pollution caused by the burning of coal include banning the use of coal for heating and cooking in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai; moving large coal-fired plants out of urban areas and replacing them with plants that burn natural gas; tightening the energy efficiency of new buildings. Some cities, including Beijing, have banned coal burning stoves and require people to cook with cleaner-burning fuels.

  • Policies to decrease emissions from coal-fried plants include installing desulphering equipment, monitoring emission levels, providing incentives to scrub emissions and closing down small inefficient plants and repalcing them with more efficient, large, modern plants. Emissions could be reduced by as much as two thirds by following these measures, but are ignored because they are expensive. Often it is easier, cheaper and enrgy-efficient to build new plants from scratch than replace existing ones.

  • China could use 50 percent less coal simply by installing energy-efficient technology. A new plant in Zouxian, the second biggest coal-fired plant in China, produces 1 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 1 million homes and burns 10 million tons of coal but produces less pollution than plants a tenth of its size thanks to new generators that are among the most efficient in the world. Made withe Japanese company Hitachi, the generators burn powdered fuel at such high temperatures (600°C) water turns to steam without boiling, saving energy and carbon emissions. The technology is expensive. It can cost almost $1 billion to supply generators to a single plant.

  • Under the proposed "Global Green Deal" Japan and the United States would help China pay for this technology The Japanese have provided power plants in Shaaxi with scrubbers to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions. These and other measures have reportedly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions for 23 million tons in 1995 to 19 million tons in 2004.

  • In 1994, only one Chinese power plant had desulphurization equipment. Now many have it and Chinese firms can produce their own desulphurization equipment at 30 percent the cost of other countries. Many think that China can also make advances with “ultra-supercritical” generators and significnatly bring the costs of that technology down.

  • Another way that China could reduce its air pollution is to convert a portion of its coal reserves into natural gas which delivers much more energy for the amount of carbon dioxide given off and produces much less air pollution. China is looking into polygneration—a method in which coal is converted into cleaner gaseous fuel that can be used to generate electricity and be processed into a petroleum substitute—as way of using coal without producing greenhouse gases.

Relieving Smog By Blasting a Hole in Mountain

  • Officials in Lanzhou considered a plan to blast a "hole" in a nearby mountain to allow smog to escape from the valley that entraps it. One local environmentalist told Newsweek, "It's like a person is smoking in a house with all the doors closed. If we open a door, fresh air can blow in."

  • The "hole" would have been produced by widening a narrow pass to two kilometers by blasting away sandy loess ridges with high-pressure hoses. Nobody knows if the plan would have worked. As outrageous as this scheme seems there are few other alternatives. Replacing or improving the Soviet-designed factories would will cost billions of dollars.

  • A hole was never blasted but the top of a mountain was blown off. It ended up adding to the pollution problem not solving it. Even though elaborate sprinkler system was brought in to control dust, large amounts of polluting particles were hurled into the air by explosives and they contributed to particulate pollution.

Success and Limitations in Cleaning Up Air Pollution in China

  • Between 2000 and 2005, the number of moderate to heavily polluted cities fell from 115 to 68 but the number of once-clean cities to “lightly polluted” rose from 100 to 141 cities. Pollution reducing measures taken in Benxi proved to be successful enough for the city to reappear in satellite imagery

  • The air pollution in Shanghai has been reduced somewhat as a result of the collapse of the textile industry there, the moving of large factories outside the city and planting lots of trees. The mayor of Shanghai has suggested adding a surcharge on electric bills to pay for environmental improvements.

  • Even if China increased the efficiency of its coal burning power plants, it wouldn't make much of difference because so many small industries and household burn coal for heating, cooking and power. Many also feel that whatever advances are made reducing industrial pollution will be cancelled by pollution from a increasing number of vehicles on the road.

  • Beijing claims that it is cracking down harder with steep fines on repeat offenders but factory owners and coal officials say that it is much cheaper to pay the fines and continue polluting than build new plants and take pollution-fighting measures. Many factory managers and government officials whose performance is judged by economic quotas and targets are reluctant to tackle air pollution if it means falling short of their targets.

Ozone and CFCs in China

  • China produced 11,540 metric tons of CFCs in 1986 compared to 311,021 metric tons by the United States. In 2007 China produced 13,060 tons of CFCs compared to 1,088 by the United States.

  • In 1980, China had only 32,000 refrigerators. By 1990 that figure jumped to four million. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) leaking from refrigerators and air-conditioners are a major source of ozone-depleting gases. China now has a huge refrigerator industry, producing chlorofluorocarbons.

  • In 1987 China was reluctant to sign the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to save the earth's ozone layer, because it believed it couldn't afford the research costs to come up with new ozone-friendly coolants. When the United States announced it would share the costs, China signed the protocol.

  • The use of ozone-layer-depleting chemicals in India and China and to a less extent in Indonesia threatens to cancel out progress made in reducing the use of these chemicals in the developed world.

  • In western Tibet-Qinghai there is a mysterious "ozone valley" that thus far scientists have been unable to explain.

Air Pollution and the 2008 Olympics

  • One of the biggest problems that Olympic organizers had to deal with is Beijing’s air pollution, which increases in the summer when humidity and a lack of wind traps particles and pollutants in the air. International Olympic Committee President Rogge said that athletic performances might be “slightly reduced” because of the pollution and some events might have to be postponed or rescheduled if pollution levels were particularly high on a certain day. Coaches and athletes were quite upset by this statement because changing the time of an event at the last minute can cause trouble for an athlete orienting his training towards a particular day and time. Later Rogge said that air pollution situation in Beijing was “perfectly manageable."

  • In some surveys, Beijing is ranked as the second most polluted city in the world. It's air quality is 16 times worse than New York City, and the amount of suspended particles is ten times higher than Los Angeles. Air pollution is measured on a scale of 0 to 500 with 200 being bad and 300 being harmful to health. Each year there are numerous days above 300 and occasionally there is a reading over 500, which is like having the mercury in a thermometer break through the top of a tube.

  • According to one study breathing the air in Beijing is the equivalent to smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. The air is so bad people sometimes go weeks without seeing the sun and sometimes even have trouble making out buildings a few blocks away. Newspapers run reports on the best times to go outside: usually before morning rush hour, in the middle of the day and before the evening rush hour and before the time when people cook their meals with coal stoves.

  • See Article 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION AND WEATHER under Sports, Olympics

Efforts to Combat Air Pollution at the 2008 Olympics

  • Chinese scientists were ordered to produce of quota of “blue sky days” in Beijing. Much of the $12.2 billion earmarked for cleaning up the city was focused on cleaning up the air. More than 200 of the foulest smokestack industries and power plants were closed or moved. An entire steelworks—Capital Iron and Steel— was moved out of Beijing, 100 miles to the east. It had been in Beijing for 50 years and used to emit nasty “red smoke all night” and once produced a toxic gas cloud that caused several people to choke to death.

  • Power plants were modified to reduce emissions; 16,000 coal-burning factories were renovated; 1,000 small coal mines were closed. Factories in the greater Beijing area and coal mines in nearby Shanxi Province were supposed to close down for weeks or months before the Olympics. Gas stations closed, industrial spraying and painting was banned. All construction was stopped to reduce dust levels. Officials with the Beijing Olympics Organizing committee sais their efforts payed off before the Olympics, saying that number of blue sky days has increased from 100 in 1998 to 241 in 2006.

  • Beijing set up a state-of-the-art control room that measured pollution at 27 monitoring stations around the city. But it was been less than forthcoming with data from these stations and of details of its pollution-fighting plans and success at reaching its goals. The stonewalling and lack of information about specific pollutants and specific areas made people suspicious. Promises to close factories outside Beijing and nearby cities were broken, apparently because some factories refusing to follow government orders to close down. The whole idea of tallying “blue sky days” as a way of measuring pollution was regarded as a joke by many scientists.

  • In April 2008, the Chinese government announced that Beijing would close factories and force 19 heavy polluters to reduce emissions by 30 percent two months before and during the Olympics and said if the weather conditions were particularly bad even more extreme measures would be taken. Other measures were taken in Tianjin, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Shandong.

  • Among the 19 polluters were several plants run by Shougang Steel—the Beijing’s worst polluter—Yanshan Petrochemical group, Jinganeneg Thermal Power and three other coal-burning plants and Number 27 locomotive Factory. The Eastern Chemical Plant of Beijing and several cement factories were shut down completely as were industrial coal-boilers and gas station that don’t meet emission standards that are among the toughest in the world.

  • Fifty factories, including two cement makers, in Tianjin, 115 kilometers east of Beijing, and 300 factories in Tangshan, 150 kilometers east of Beijing, were ordered to close from late July to mid September. Tianjin, which hosted some Olympic soccer games, halted the construction of 26 buildings during the Games. A contingency plan was in place to close even more factories and coal-fired coal plants and impose driving restrictions in Tianjin and other cities around Beijing if pollution worsened during the Olympics.

Vehicles, Air Pollution and the 2008 Olympics

  • Emission standards were tightened on vehicles in the wake of the 2008 Olympics. More than 50,000 smog-producing taxis were taken off the streets and replaced with more efficient models. More than 4,000 buses were put in operation that ran on natural gas and produced virtually no emissions.

  • In August 2007, Chinese authorities reduced the number of cars in Beijing by 1 million over a four day period using an odd-even licence plate system that was a test for a similar system to be used during the Olympics. Even though skies were still hazy and brown as usual and pollution levels were slightly higher than before the test, the authorities deemed the test a success, saying that pollution readings were in the 90s. Readings of 100 to 200 are regarded as slightly polluted. The Chinese media was told to play up the positive aspects of the test.

  • Cars with even numbered license plates were barred from driving two days. Cars with odd numbered license plates were barred from driving on two other days. Taxis, buses, police cars ambulances were exempted. Bus and subway service was increased. Traffic ran smoothly and there were few complains about lines for buses or subways.

  • Driving restrictions began about 2½ weeks before the Opening Ceremonies and continued for about a month after the Olympics ended. Half of Beijing’s vehicles were kept of the roads using the odd, even license plate system. Taxis, buses and emergency vehicles were exempted from the rules. Beginning in early July, about 300,000 vehicles that failed to meet strict emission standards were banned from downtown Beijing.

Image Sources: 1) University of Washington; 2) Impact Lab; 3,5 ) Natalie Behring, Bloomberg, Environmental News.; 4) University of Utah; 6) Environmental News; 7) David Wolman Blogspot; 8) NASA; 9) Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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Title: Cupertino's Lehigh cement permit renewal on hold for new EPA standards

By: Matthew Wilson
Publication: Cupertino Courier
Posted: 01/14/2010

A permit renewal that outlines all federal regulations for the Lehigh Cement Plant's operation is on hold as regulatory officials wait to add tough new federal emission standards to the voluminous operating permit.

Lehigh will continue to operate but will have to wait until the summer renewal of its Title V permit, which details the approximately 1,500 source-specific air pollution limits and standards, according to Brian Bateman, director of engineering with Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The permit lists all such requirements and the monitoring, record keeping and reporting steps the facility must take and it must be renewed every five years. New emission standards from the Environmental Protection Agency will set the nation's first limits on mercury emissions from existing kilns and new kilns. Emission limits for hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide will also be set.

"We are putting on hold our Title V efforts in regards with this facility. We are doing this because of the development of EPA's applicable standards. We think it makes a lot of sense to have that process move forward. When those standards are finalized, we will incorporate them" into the new permit, Jack Broadbent, CEO of the BAAQMD, said at a special Cupertino City Council session Tuesday regarding the Lehigh plant.

"We are going through a renewal process. It would not make sense to go through yet another renewal process."

The new mercury emission rules will be announced in June. The facility will then plan to deal with the new rules and incorporate those efforts into the renewed permit. The strict new standards will take effect in 2013 and are expected to reduce mercury emissions by 81 percent to 93 percent and hydrochloric acid by 94 percent, said to Shaheerah Kelly, an environmental engineer with the EPA.

"The technology has got to the point where we feel these regulation standards are feasible," said Bateman. "Mercury is difficult to filter. More so than other metals because of its relative volatility."

The air district is also evaluating and responding to a deluge of public comments regarding the permit. The district believes that many of the new emission standards will address some of the comments, according to Broadbent.

The Title V Program requires local and state air quality agencies to issue comprehensive operating permits to facilities that emit significant amounts of air pollutants. The EPA has authority to terminate, modify or revoke and re-issue a permit. There are about 100 Title V facilities in the Bay Area that BAAQMD oversees. Bateman said that in the past five years of the permit Lehigh has had 18 notices of violation, many of which were administrative and the result of faulty equipment.

"In nearly ever case they were associated with some equipment that was not working properly and that was corrected quickly, usually in a day or less than a day from when the notice of violation was issued," said Bateman.

Lehigh can continue to operate as normal as long as the permit renewal is under review, according to Bateman. The announcement came on Jan. 5 and was reiterated at the council session Tuesday. The meeting brought together representatives from BAAQMD, Regional Water Quality Control Board, the EPA and Santa Clara County to educate the city council and residents on how the facility is monitored regulated.

"It was very educational for me just to learn about the process. It's a learning curve for me and the public," Councilman Gilbert Wong said.

"Even though we do not have jurisdiction, I am a believer in transparency in government. One thing we wanted to learn was what as going on and hear from [the public] and also from the regulatory agencies who see if there is problem. I'm very happy to see tighter regulations coming in," Councilman Mark Santoro said.

It was also announced at the meeting that air testing by the EPA near Stevens Creek Elementary School conducted in mid-2009 found levels of hexavalent chromium that were well below levels of concern. The EPA is analyzing results, wind data, and source operations. A report will be issued later this year on the findings.

The Lehigh Hanson Cement Plant is off Stevens Creek Boulevard in the hills of Santa Clara County. It lies just beyond the Cupertino borders and the city has no jurisdiction over the facility. The cement facility became a popular issue during the recent city council election.

Because of ongoing resident concern, the city is staying up to date on Lehigh operations. Councilman Barry Chang even offered to join air district officials during surprise inspections.

A few dozen residents spoke out at Tuesday's meeting, raising concerns about emissions and potential health risks of the facility. Many congratulated the council for holding the meeting and were pleased to see tougher emission standards coming.

"Throughout the course of the industrial revolution, a lot of industries have started out with the best of intentions and its been discovered that they are very bad for society. Asbestos comes to mind as one and its heavily regulated now and we used to everywhere when I was a kid," said John Bartas "It seems the cement industry belongs with those other industries."

The city is devoting a section of its website to Lehigh Cement Plant information and frequently asked questions.

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Title: Permit renewal withdrawn for Lehigh cement plant

By: Town Crier Staff Report 
Publication:  Town Crier
Posted: Wednesday, 06 January 2010

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has withdrawn its Title V operating permit renewal for the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company, an apparent victory for increasingly vocal opponents of the Cupertino-based plant and quarry.

Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, who founded the opposition group QuarryNo (quarryno.com), said the air district won’t submit a new permit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until stricter EPA rules governing mercury and other toxic emissions take effect in the spring. Although the plant can continue to operate under its current permit indefinitely, the recent action, Almon indicated, at least points out that the air district and the EPA are listening.

Almon’s group had complained that resident input wasn’t considered in prior discourse between the air district and the EPA, in which officials declined to object to the permit moving forward. The group outlined its concerns in a letter to the EPA.

“The EPA is now preparing a letter in response to the QuarryNo letter,” Almon said.

Opponents of the long-running cement plant and quarry, formerly Kaiser Permanente, have cited problems with the plant’s residual toxic emissions blowing into Los Altos Hills. Almon said his group recently conducted dust tests that measured arsenic levels 20 to 50 times higher than established state health levels. Arsenic is a poisonous element found naturally in minerals.

“The arsenic is in the limestone mined and is a common waste from mining,” Almon said. “It is toxic, particularly in the air when it swirls around the cars and trucks and becomes airborne.”

Lehigh’s Nick Rangel provided the company’s written response: “Arsenic levels at our site are consistent with naturally occurring levels in Santa Clara County” and are not harmful to humans.

In addition, air district officials see no health dangers from plant and quarry operations.

But Almon asserted that Lehigh’s statement “attributed our arsenic test results to naturally occurring levels in the soil. That is not the case. Our samples were not dug out of the ground. They came from dust in the street near the BAAQMD Particulate Monitoring Station on Stevens Creek Boulevard. Regretfully, the BAAQMD only weighs the particulate – they have never analyzed it. Since everyone complained about the dust and the BAAQMD refused to analyze it, we were forced to do so.”

Almon’s group represents an effort to close down the 70-year-old cement plant and quarry, located just south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Opponents are operating on two fronts: trying to thwart a permit renewal for the cement plant and to defeat a reclamation plan for the quarry that would expand mining.

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Title: Air district extends deadline for comment on Lehigh permit

By: Town Crier Staff Report 
Publication: Los Altos Town Crier
Posted: Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A debate over the lack of public input spurred the Bay Area Air Quality Management District last month to give opponents of a longstanding Cupertino cement plant more time to petition against renewal of the plant’s operating permit.

In a Nov. 24 letter, Jack Broadbent, the air district’s executive officer, conceded that residents might be under the impression that their comments at a Sept. 17 hearing and subsequent written comments were ignored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when it did not object to permit renewal in a Sept. 25 letter to the air district.

“The public notice issued for this proposed permit renewal indicated that the public may petition EPA to reconsider its decision not to object to the permit within 60 days after the end of the EPA review period,” Broadbent wrote in his letter to the EPA.

Brian Bateman, engineering director for the air district, said last week that the district has given residents an additional 105 days to petition the EPA on the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company plant (formerly Kaiser Permanente Cement), located just south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

“Since the district is still actively involved in the process of evaluating and responding to the many public comments received on this permit, we believe that this request (for additional time) is reasonable,” Broadbent wrote.

Reaction to the decision among cement plant opponents was mixed.

“We finally got the (air district) to stop and consider the public comments they solicited,” said Bill Almon of Los Altos Hills, leader of the opposition group QuarryNo (quarryno.com). “However, … they simply are resubmitting the old unrevised proposed permit. It does not contain anything from the public comment. Since the clock has started again without public comment, we are not pleased.”

Bateman said the air district did not make any errors in the notification process, but did note there was no “exact date” on the deadline for residents to petition the EPA.

The operating permit scheduled for renewal is Title V, reflecting a law passed in the 1990s that combines numerous regulations and conditions into one permit. Bateman said the permit essentially protects the public by dictating limits on environmental pollution as a result of plant operations. Further, the onus is on opponents to come up with valid reasons why a permit should not be renewed.

Bateman said permit renewal is required if the cement plant meets all conditions of the permit. The renewal is good for an additional five years. Bateman said he doesn’t see an approval happening before the first quarter of 2010.

Residents said they have evidence of dust residue from the plant and quarry that has settled around their homes, and claim that health risks are greater than what the air district or cement plant officials maintain.

Almon said his group has conducted its own testing, and results showed arsenic levels as high as 50 times greater than the California Health Screening Level for arsenic in soil.

Almon said the air district doesn’t consider the arsenic a major health risk factor. His group has appealed to the EPA to conduct its own testing.

Meanwhile, the EPA is imposing new regulations on mercury emissions next year that would require cement plants nationally to reduce emissions by 81 percent.

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Title: Oregon drops the ball on mercury 

By: Les Zaitz
Publication: The Oregonian
Posted: December 12, 2009, 11:14AM

Ash Grove Cement Co., Baker County's largest employer, is suspending operations this week. Cement consumption dropped nationally because of the recession. The company has committed to spending up to $20 million to cut its pollution 75 percent by July 2010. That work will go forward despite the plant shutdown. Nearly every day, an eastern Oregon cement factory vents an invisible and toxic cloud of mercury into the skies above Durkee.

Only one other factory in the country emits more mercury, and no factory can match Ash Grove Cement Co. for polluting with the type of mercury most harmful to people.

Yet for nearly 30 years, Ash Grove's plant pumped mercury into the air at will, undetected and unrestrained by state or federal agencies.

Despite the known dangers of mercury, federal regulators for decades did nothing.

And the state's chief environmental regulator, the Department of Environmental Quality, didn't realize what was happening in Oregon's backyard until a few years ago, when a curious engineer did some simple math.

An investigation by The Oregonian found the state fell short of its duty to protect people from the plant's emissions.

State officials ignored company reports disclosing toxic pollutants. Had they checked, they would have found 1 ton of mercury a year drifting out of Durkee, alongside Interstate 84 east of Baker City. But no agency ever assessed whether people around the plant or those downwind suffered.

Regulators also have no idea how many people might be at risk. State officials say they are inadequately equipped to determine that. One estimate puts some of the mercury into downtown Boise.

Ash Grove Cement insists its daily mercury emissions don't hurt anyone, citing as proof a study it paid for last year. The study didn't test a single human in Oregon. No regulator has accepted its conclusions.

The DEQ says its task is to reduce pollution, relying on others to assess public health. The state tests for mercury in fish -- but not in people.

Besides, they argue, Ash Grove seemed to want to work with the state on the problem. In fact, Ash Grove was close enough to DEQ officials that, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough new rules, the company tried to recruit DEQ executives to fight the EPA with them.

Now, the recession -- not regulation -- will stop the emissions. Ash Grove, Baker County's largest employer, suspends operations this week, citing lack of business.

Working since 1978

The towering plant's location is a result of geology.

A big belt of limestone courses through northeastern Oregon. It is laced with natural mercury, the result of ancient volcanic activity. Since 1978, the Durkee plant has processed the limestone into cement, vaporizing the mercury into the atmosphere.

No one paid attention.

Ash Grove executives knew from testing in 1993 that they had mercury at Durkee. They said they did nothing about it. Four years later, mercury came up as a concern as state environmental regulators considered giving Ash Grove permission to expand. The state dismissed the concern and in March 2007 approved the expansion, sending even more mercury out of a stack nearly 30 stories tall.

Little more than a month later, state health authorities warned the public against eating too much fish from Brownlee Reservoir. A 57-mile-long lake on the Snake River, Brownlee is one of the West's most popular warm-water fishing spots, favored for its catfish and bass. The popular fishing spot is east of the cement plant, just over a rise.

Ash Grove's own research shows that the Burnt River also picks up mercury deposited around the plant and carries it into Brownlee. Federal scientists testing Brownlee fish in 1998 found the highest mercury concentration at Burnt River.

By the time of the warning about Brownlee's fish, scientists well understood the human damage caused by mercury.

All forms of mercury are health threats. The threat from inhaling airborne mercury is low because it is so thinly dispersed.

The hazard grows when mercury filters out of the sky, washes into bodies of water and becomes part of the underwater food buffet. Fish absorb and then hold onto the mercury in anything they eat. The highest concentrations are in large game fish such as those in Brownlee Reservoir.

When people eat too much contaminated fish, the mercury accumulates in their brains and impairs the nervous system. Kidneys and lungs can be damaged as well. Pregnant women and children are most vulnerable, and federal authorities estimate that 400,000 babies are born every year in the U.S. with potentially life-damaging levels of mercury.

The nation attacked air pollution with the Clean Air Act of 1970, but cement factories escaped the new rules. In 1990, an irritated Congress ordered federal regulators to step up control of toxic pollutants, including mercury.

Factories such as Durkee still remained free to puff away without limit because the EPA concluded the technology to stop such mercury pollution was too costly.

Meanwhile, Oregon's pollution police were cracking down on mercury. The DEQ warned the public that mercury is "highly toxic, resists breaking down in the environment, and accumulates in the food chain."

The agency said anyone spilling three tablespoons should call the state to respond. It went so far as to start rounding up household thermometers, which contained a bead of mercury weighing half a gram.

But the agency overlooked the threat posed by Durkee, which annually was emitting mercury equal to 2 million thermometers.

Proof of the pollution was in plain sight.

Jamie Francis/The Oregonian In 1997, state health authorities warned the public against eating too much fish from Brownlee Reservoir, a popular spot to catch catfish and bass. The Burnt River picks up mercury deposited by Ash Grove Cement Co. and carries it to Brownlee. The state has never retested the fish, despite allowing Ash Grove to expand production.

In 2001, Ash Grove started disclosing its mercury emissions to the EPA, listing 218 pounds in its first report. Within three years, the number had jumped to 632 pounds.

"It didn't raise any issues for us," said Fran Streitman, an Ash Grove vice president in the company's Kansas headquarters.

The EPA posted the yearly reports online, but no one at the agency or the DEQ used them.

Patty Jacobs, a DEQ engineer, changed that in 2006.

Startling numbers

Jacobs managed state permits for Portland General Electric's power plant in Boardman, a worrisome source of mercury in 2006. That summer, a story in The Oregonian caught her attention. The newspaper reported that Ash Grove's mercury emissions exceeded PGE's emissions threefold.

"I just found it pretty incredible that Ash Grove's number was higher than Boardman's," Jacobs recalled. "I thought, 'Holy cajoly.'"

She decided to check the math in Ash Grove's federal reports against other information in the DEQ's files. "I've done the math wrong," she thought when she saw the number. She ran the math again and came up with the same number:

Ash Grove was emitting not 600 pounds of mercury, but 2,200 pounds.

How could Ash Grove's report be so far off?

Company officials said they relied on an erroneous report from 2002 to calculate emissions. Revised reports reflected the more substantial emissions. "When we saw the number, we became alarmed," said Streitman.

Jacobs and her colleagues were galvanized by the discovery.

"That's a lot of mercury -- that's a 'holy cow,'" said Linda Hayes-Gorman, DEQ's air quality manager for eastern Oregon.

Jacobs crafted an eight-page memo proposing what the DEQ should do.

The memo, dated Aug. 17, 2006, outlined the history of mercury regulation and described Ash Grove's operation. Jacobs said the DEQ could impose new restrictions when Ash Grove renewed its air pollution permit. She said that "it may not, however, be prudent to wait."

She recommended the DEQ determine "with as much certainty as possible the location, nature and amounts of mercury emissions."

Environmental groups weighed in, urging the DEQ to act speedily on "this significant environmental and public health threat." Their letter recommended "mercury testing in local children and other residents as well as the testing of workers at the Ash Grove facility."

None of it was ever done.

Executives from the DEQ and Ash Grove, assembled in Portland, did consider health impacts, but the focus was on testing limestone, measuring the mercury coming out of the stack and running models to estimate where the mercury was going. Ash Grove executives came to the meeting already armed with a plan to try new technology to limit their pollution. They also volunteered other testing, impressing DEQ officials.

But first the company wanted state regulators to spell out what information they wanted -- and how they would use it.

"They will not start until we provide them with expectations/purpose," Hayes-Gorman jotted in her meeting note.

Jacobs teamed up with the DEQ's staff toxicologist, Bruce Hope, to draft a memo dated Jan. 17, 2007, which said: "DEQ is concerned that mercury emissions from the facility may have caused or be causing unacceptable long-term impacts to public health."

They proposed tests at the plant to establish the mercury levels, monitoring on the ground to see where it was going, and testing of fish. They said that the DEQ then would be prepared to tell the public "what risks, if any, there are to people exposed by mercury emissions from Ash Grove."

The memo never made it out of draft stage.

The Oregonian Ash Grove Cement Co. has spent $1 million testing a system to reduce the mercury coming out of its smokestack, which rises 30 stories above Interstate 84 south of Durkee.

Ash Grove health study

DEQ officials decided against health studies for two reasons.

One was expediency. They wanted to cut mercury pollution right away instead of waiting for health studies. Such studies could be "expensive, lengthy and inconclusive," Hayes-Gorman said.

The second reason was that Ash Grove beat the state to the punch.

Without telling state officials, the company hired consultants to assess Durkee's health risks. Despite close consultation with the DEQ on every other test under way, the company kept silent about work on the health report. But why?

"I really don't have an answer for you," Streitman told The Oregonian.

In April 2007, the results showed up at the DEQ -- "out of the blue," one official said.

The study concluded that Durkee's mercury emissions "do not present a risk to human health and the environment above regulatory levels of concern."

As is standard for such reports, the conclusion relied on elaborate computer models, not actual health tests. Hope, the state toxicologist, said he would have pressed for field tests to verify what the computer was saying, but the agency was ready to move on.

The agency and Ash Grove pursued a voluntary arrangement to cut the Durkee mercury emissions. Imposing new limits by rule could take up to three years.

To draft a plan, the DEQ in the fall of 2007 convened environmentalists, doctors, public health specialists, and executives from both Ash Grove and the DEQ. This work group considered health issues over two meetings. They got Ash Grove's health report but were cautioned that the assumptions it contained hadn't been tested.

The seriousness of mercury was clear. One DEQ official advised the group that mercury in "very small concentrations in environment can become large concentration in a food source," according to meeting minutes. They discussed human impacts, including birth defects in newborns.

Despite the concern, the idea of confronting the health impacts faded. Oregon's public health agency had a seat at the table but didn't press for action.

This was the same agency that warned people 10 years earlier about fish in Brownlee Reservoir. The state Public Health Division had done nothing about it since.

Agency officials never checked to see whether Brownlee mercury pollution had worsened after Ash Grove doubled production. The agency never considered testing people in the area.

"There is no capacity to do that -- period. That is an enormous gap that we have as a public health system in this state," said Gail Shibley, administrator of the Office of Environmental Public Health, a unit of the Public Health Division.

Company executives proposed to the group deploying an experimental system to take mercury out of the Durkee smokestack. The company said it spent $1 million running a test of the system believed to offer the best promise of any equipment available for cement plants.

The work group endorsed the concept, and then wrestled over how much Ash Grove should be expected to cut. Some wanted emissions reduced 90 percent, a view that angered the company.

The company's attorney, Tom Wood, pointedly reminded the group that Ash Grove didn't have to do anything. "You're pushing my client's back to the wall," Wood said.

He said Ash Grove could walk and keep venting mercury for three more years until the DEQ could catch up with its regulatory lasso.

"That's 7,500 pounds of mercury. How many years will it take to make up 7,500 pounds?" he asked.

Cooler heads prevailed.

$20 million commitment

Ash Grove committed to spending up to $20 million to cut its pollution 75 percent by July 2010.

The reduction still leaves Ash Grove free to emit about 675 pounds of mercury a year -- the worst cement kiln polluter in the country.

Andy Ginsburg, the DEQ's top air quality executive, said it's the best the DEQ could get, given today's technology.

"There isn't an acceptable level," he said. "Any level of mercury in the environment is going to be cause for concern."

Meeting more stringent limits isn't possible, company officials said.

"Otherwise you shut down and you bring in cement from China," Streitman said.

Ash Grove cited Chinese production and its unrestricted pollution after the EPA, in an about-face under the Obama administration, proposed sharp mercury limits. The company said the rule would force Durkee to cut mercury pollution by 99 percent.

"It's high time" for stricter limits, said Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator. "We wanted to move quickly to show that this administration was committed to clean air, committed to the law and committed to sound science."

McCarthy noted that the Durkee plant and a factory in California combine to produce one-third of all mercury pollution from the country's 163 operating cement factories.

Ash Grove approached DEQ officials to speak on its behalf in opposing the federal rules. Instead, the DEQ recommended the EPA assess the cost to the environment of shutting down Durkee and relying on imported cement.

In a September letter to the EPA, a month before Ash Grove announced it would suspend operations in Durkee, the company raised legal and technical arguments against the new rules. It also talked about human health.

"If the plant were to close, the health of the community would be seriously degraded," Ash Grove wrote. "The adverse impact would be to the health of the families who depend on this facility for income and health insurance."

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Title: Original Commencers on Title V permit renewal can petition an Objection

By: Joyce M Eden
Organization: West Valley Clean Air Watch (WVCAW)
Date: 11/17/2009

Update:- In looking at the document regarding petitioning the EPA, it is only those who turned in comments on the Title V Renewal Permit who can bring a petition of objection to the EPA based on their already filed comments,. So WVCAW will do so based on the comments we turned in on the Title V renewal during the official comment period.

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Title: Objection Period for Title V permit renewal

By: Joyce M Eden
Organization: West Valley Clean Air Watch (WVCAW)
Date: 11/16/2009

After a lot of researching, I just found out that the EPA already signed off on the Title V permit. While that is a terrible process, they are allowed to do so. There is a 60 day period in which to object. The EPA signed off on Sept 25 -- yep, BEFORE the end of the public comment period, BEFORE they got the info they requested from Lehigh, and BEFORE the public could review that info.

We can still object. I am putting together an objection letter from WVCAW based on what we already turned in, which is way more than enough on which to object. The objection can be done as a citizen objection and does not need to be done by lawyers or a law firm. But it does need to be done. You can sign onto our letter if you like, or you can write your own if you like. We can also ask for an extension of the 60 objection period, which I will do also, but do not count on it being extended, the chances are slim on that.

I also have the latest info from BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) that they will not finish their response to the Title V public comments until sometime in the first quarter of 2010.

The main thing is that they receive substantive comments for the objection, which I will do based our WVCAW comments on the Title V permit.

If you do not want to get involved in this process and stay focused on mercury, that is fine. I just wanted to inform you of this.

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Title: Overwhelming public response could delay Cupertino cement plant's permit process

By Matt Wilson
Publication: Cupertino Courier 
Posted: 09/28/2009 02:15:06 PM PDT

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District could delay until December a decision about whether Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant should have its permit renewed.

The possible delay would be a response to an overwhelming community response to the renewal. At a meeting earlier this month, dozens of Cupertino residents stepped up to the microphone to vent their frustration with having the plant as a neighbor and asked that the plant not have its Title V permit renewed.

The district had planned to decide whether to renew the permit by the end of October, but might delay that until December so it has time to consider all public comments. The Title V Permit is a compilation of all existing air-quality requirements including emissions limits and standards, monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements and is required for the plant to continue operations at the site. Permit renewal is required every five years.

Complaints about the plant centered around dust, noise, odors, limestone dust on cars and fears about the potential long-term health issues for living close to the facility.

Some residents pleaded with air district staff to consider postponing the permit until new studies about the potentially harmful affects of some pollutants are more clearly studied. A few residents who live near the facility argued that they were better judges of facility compliance than state and country regulators.

"I was awakened twice this summer Advertisement by a noxious odor in the wee hours of the morning," said Ruth Zabor, who lives one mile from the facility. "I really think it has to be closed down."

A few residents, and some in the health profession, brought slideshow presentations of lime dust in their neighborhood and photographs of what they consider to be too much pollution coming from the facility.

"It's very encouraging to see a broader perspective of people at these meetings," said resident Lyn Faust, who lives about a half-mile from Lehigh. "I think it makes a very big impact. I hope the [air district] takes into account the size of the audience and puts the permit on hold until we get all the answers."

If a renewal is granted, it will be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency and issued sometime in the fall or before the new year, according to air district staff.

Lehigh has no ongoing violations or patterns of recurrent violations, district officials said.

The former Hanson Permanente Cement plant is in unincorporated Santa Clara County just beyond the western border of Cupertino. Mining on the site dates back to the 1880s and the cement plant has been operating since 1939.

Nearby Stevens Creek Elementary School frequently has its air monitored. As of Sept. 3, there were three samples taken which did not detect the pollutant hexavalent chromium. A very small amount was detected in the fourth through seventh samples. The district said these levels do not pose significant health risks. The EPA and the air district will continue monitoring in September.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is the regional government agency that regulates stationary sources of air pollution in nine counties in the Bay Area. Approximately 100 facilities in the Bay Area require Title V permits.

For more information go to www.baaqmd.gov.

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Title: Oregon cement plant shutting down, cutting 68 jobs

By Les Zaitz,
Publication: The Oregonian
Posted: September 30, 2009, 5:48PM

Ash Grove Cement Co. announced layoffs Wednesday at its Durkee plant in Eastern Oregon and eight other factories around the nation. The Durkee plant, the largest private employer in Baker County, will lose 68 of its 115 employees, Ash Grove said.

"It's devastating to Baker County," said Fred Warner Jr., Baker County commission chairman. "These are 68 really good jobs. It's going to hurt the community."

Companywide, the shutdown will hit 500 of the company's 2,800 employees. The Kansas company is the largest U.S.-owned maker of cement. Company officials said they had no schedule to resume manufacturing, but they will continue shipments from cement stockpiles built up in recent months.

The Portland Cement Association said cement consumption dropped 22 percent so far this year on the heels of a double-digit decline in 2008. The association doesn't expect the demand for cement to rebound until late 2010.

Ash Grove's Oregon plant, situated next to Interstate 84 about 30 miles south of Baker City, has been in the headlines for emitting more mercury into the air than any other industrial site in the state. The plant, which mines limestone to process into cement, vents about 2,000 pounds of mercury a year. The mercury occurs naturally in the limestone and is vaporized during the cement-making process.

Mercury can damage the human nervous system if ingested in sufficient quantities and is a particular threat to pregnant women and children. The prime risk is from eating fish from waterways contaminated with mercury. Oregon has issued several advisories, cautioning limits on consuming fish from waterways around the state.

Until recently, Ash Grove faced no regulation for its mercury emissions. Last year, the company struck a deal with the state Department of Environmental Quality to voluntarily cut mercury emissions at Durkee by 75 percent. Construction started this summer on $20 million worth of mercury control equipment designed to hit that target. That work, the first of its kind in the country, will continue despite the shutdown, company officials said.

After Ash Grove reached its agreement with Oregon officials, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed tougher standards for mercury control. Ash Grove officials contend the technology doesn't exist that would allow Durkee to meet the proposed federal rule. The only option would be to close the plant, the company has said. State officials initially considered backing Ash Grove's case before federal regulators, in part to help save the high-paying rural jobs. The state ultimately urged the EPA to compare the environmental impact of keeping Durkee open or closing it and increasing imports of Chinese cement.

The EPA is scheduled to settle on its new mercury rules next year.

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Title: Process to help reduce mercury at Lehigh

By: Carrie Ann Knauer
Publication: Carroll County Times
Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009

UNION BRIDGE — Lehigh Cement Co. will install new equipment this week that the company is hoping will reduce its mercury output by up to 40 percent.

Union Bridge plant manager Kent Martin said company officials have been in talks with the Maryland Department of the Environment for the past year, since an environmental group released a report citing the Union Bridge facility as one of the highest mercury releasers in the state.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and MDE did not have standards for mercury releases from cement plants, but the EPA has been in the process of developing a limit over the past few years. The EPA is expected to release the new limits in March.

Martin said Lehigh is going to experiment with injecting activated carbon into the ductwork leading up to the baghouse that filters particulate matter, to keep it from being released into the air. The carbon binds to the mercury, Martin said, allowing it to be trapped by the baghouse filters.

A similar process is used at power plants, Martin said, but he believes this will be the first time it has been tried at a cement plant, at least on the East Coast.

The equipment is being set up and monitored by an outside contractor, Martin said. During the test period, which will last several weeks, hundreds of samples will be taken at different stages, Martin said, and these will be analyzed over the next few months. The tests will help determine how to make the carbon injection system most effective, Martin said, as well as test what effect the process has on the cement product.

“Carbon itself is not good for cement,” Martin said.

Martin said the company plans to have the analysis report finished by early 2010. The goal is to then have the equipment permanently in place by March 2012 — a year before the EPA standards for mercury released at cement plants go into effect, he said.

Kurt Deery, environmental engineer at Lehigh Cement, said Lehigh’s goal is to get its mercury emissions down to 43 pounds released per million tons of cement clinker produced. The mercury is found naturally in the materials used to produce the cement, and the company believes it has an input of 400 pounds of mercury per year.

“It’s going to put us at the cutting edge of mercury reduction,” Deery said.

The company also instituted another mercury reduction method at the end of 2008.

The company built a permanent addition to the plant to transport the baghouse dust directly to the finish mill where it can be carefully added at low levels to the finished product, Martin said. Studies show that the mercury mixed and contained in concrete does not leach out of the set product, Martin said, and thus is not a threat to the environment.

With these two methods combined, the company believes it will be able to achieve the 80 percent reduction in its mercury emissions that the EPA is going to require in 2013, Martin said.

“We’re very confident we’ll achieve the 80 percent reduction,” Martin said.

Jay Apperson, a spokesman for MDE, said these activated carbon injectors are already in use at coal-burning power plants and waste incinerators around the country. Many are being installed at Maryland power plants now to get these facilities in compliance with the Maryland Healthy Air Act.

“We see no reason why this technology will not work for cement plants,” Apperson said. “It’s very good news for the environment.”

Dan Strickler, president of the New Windsor Community Action Project, said residents are glad to hear that the equipment is being installed.

“It’s a good step they should have taken a long time ago,” Strickler said.

While the company is optimistic about achieving an 80 percent reduction in its mercury release, Strickler said he is concerned that Lehigh will still be releasing 86 pounds of mercury per year into the air over West Carroll.

Strickler said the community is glad the company is getting a head start on reducing the mercury emissions, so that if the process doesn’t work, they will be able to look for other reduction methods earlier.

Reach staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer at 410-857-7874 or carrie.knauer@carrollcountytimes.com.

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Title: Zimbabwean cement factory shut down on pollution concerns

By: Unknown
Publication: China Cement
Posted: August 17, 2009

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of Zimbabwe, which deals with environmental issues, has shutdown one of the country' largest cement manufacturing companies for causing water pollution.

The Chinese-owned cement giant, Sino-Zimbabwe, which is situated in the town of Gweru about 200 kilometers north-east of Bulawayo, was ordered to close by EMA and this has seen hundreds of workers losing their jobs.

EMA director, Phillip Chikwende Manyaza, told a state-owned daily on Thursday that they ordered the closure of the cement manufacturing company after receiving several complaints of serious pollution of the community' water sources, flora and fauna threatening human and livestock lives.

"We served Sino-Zimbabwe with a Cease Operations order on 22 July in terms of the Environmental Management Act after carrying out an inspection of their plant."

"The inspection was carried out after receiving several complaints from the local communities, mainly resettled farmers. The amount of cement dust emissions from the factory chimneys into the atmosphere was higher than normal," said Manyaza.

Manyaza said the cement company was discharging cement dust and raw sewage directly into a stream that fed Gweru River causing serious water pollution.

He said the company was also found guilty of discharging used oil into the environment causing serious pollution.

"The problem with used oil is that it has heavy metals like lead, carbinium and chromium. These are heavy metals that are toxic and highly poisonous. They impact negatively on human and livestock health and other living organisms," said the EMA director.

Sino-Zimbabwe started operating on commercial basis in 2001 after its completion in December 2000 with a total cost of US $51 million.

The company releases 30 haulage trucks per week, mostly to the DRC and Zambia, laden with cement.

Trade between China and Zimbabwe increased since 2000 when President Robert Mugabe's regime promoted an aggressive "Look East" policy premised on the need to find new trading partners and markets after traditional investors from Western nations turned against Harare in protest over the regime's human rights abuses, repression against political opponents and violent land-grab programmes.

China has now become the second largest trade partner of Zimbabwe, after South Africa. The Asian country is also the biggest tobacco buyer from Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe and China have cooperated in areas of agriculture technology, information and communication technology, tourism and manufacturing.

Recently, China provided more than 1,000 human resources training opportunities for Zimbabwe and has since opened a Chinese language centre at the University of Zimbabwe.

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Title: Lehigh agrees to pollution requests

By Adam Bednar
Publication Times Staff Writer
Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The state and Lehigh Cement Co. reached agreements on reducing mercury emissions from the Union Bridge cement plant as well as corrective actions for the plant for violating limits on particulate matter emissions in 2007.

The Maryland Department of the Environment announced the agreement with the plant to reduce mercury emissions ahead of tighter federal regulations taking effect in March 2013.

"Until more stringent federal requirements are in place, [the] MDE has been proactively looking for every opportunity to reduce mercury emissions from all sources in the State," said Secretary Shari Wilson in a press release.

Kent Martin, plant manager of Lehigh's Union Bridge facility, said he was satisfied with the agreements made with the state.

"With regards to mercury, we've been working very, very closely with the MDE on developing a mercury reduction technology here at Union Bridge. And we've been utilizing that over the last couple of months to reduce mercury," Martin said.

The company will begin activated carbon injection testing the last week of August. An activated carbon injection system scrubs mercury out of a gas stream and prevents its release into the environment, Martin said.

Lehigh has agreed to install an activated carbon injection system by March 2012.

The state expects further upgrades in pollution control to reduce the amount of mercury emissions from the plant by 80 percent.

Mercury accumulates in fish and becomes a health hazard when the fish is ingested by humans, according to the state.

A report released in July 2008 from the Environmental Integrity Project revealed the plant released 376 pounds of mercury into the air in 2007. The report also questioned why the inputs of mercury didn't equal outputs of mercury. The report estimated that the plant could be releasing as much as 1,500 pounds a year.

At the time the largest polluter in Maryland was Constellation Energy's Brandon Shores coal burning power plant in Pasadena, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2007 it released 550 pounds of mercury a year.

The company also has signed a consent decree with the state after the state filed a complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court Aug. 5.

The state accused the plant of violating the amount of particulates it is allowed to emit between April and July 2007.

Particulate matter can be small enough to be inhaled and cause cardiopulmonary health problem and aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, according to the state.

Lehigh and the state signed a consent decree Thursday that requires the company to check its stack more frequently and to perform weekly inspections of pollution control devices.

The consent decree, which is awaiting court approval, also requires Lehigh to pay a $202,500 penalty.

Kurt Deery, the site's environmental engineer, said that they failed the 2007 tests "by a very marginal number."

"We were very surprised we did fail. Our last two were way under the MDE limit of 10 percent," Deery said.

He said the company made some small corrections on their stack house and that emissions were back to normal by July 2007.

Reach staff writer Adam Bednar at 410-751-5908 or adam.bednar@carrollcountytimes.com.

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Title: Department of the Environment Takes Action To Reduce Air And Mercury Pollution At Lehigh Cement In Union Bridge

Lehigh Cement to Voluntarily Reduce Mercury Emissions ahead of Federal Deadline; MDE and Lehigh Resolve Enforcement Action for Particulate Matter Violations 

By: Dawn Stoltzfus and Jay Apperson
Publication: Maryland Department of the Environment
Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2009

BALTIMORE, MD (August 10, 2009) – The Maryland Department of the Environment today announced two significant actions to reduce mercury and resolve alleged particulate emission violations at Lehigh Cement Company’s Union Bridge plant in Carroll County. MDE entered into a voluntary agreement with Lehigh Cement that requires Lehigh to modify operations at the Union Bridge plant and install pollution controls to achieve mercury emission reductions in advance of federal mercury emission limitations for portland cement plants expected to take effect in March 2013. In a separate action resolving an enforcement action for alleged violations of particulate emission standards set by permit, Lehigh agreed to pay a $202,500 penalty and implement corrective actions designed to prevent future violations.

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said: “Enforcing our existing environmental laws remains MDE’s number one priority to protect our air, land, and water, as well as public health. In addition, we continue to work to find ways that Maryland industries can voluntarily reduce their pollution.”

On August 5, 2009, MDE filed a Complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court alleging that between April and July 2007, Lehigh exceeded particulate matter emission limits applicable to its Union Bridge plant cement kiln and clinker cooler stacks. Along with the Complaint, MDE filed a motion asking the court to enter a Consent Decree in resolution of the Complaint. The Consent Decree will take effect when entered by the court. The Consent Decree requires corrective actions designed to prevent future violations, including more frequent stack-testing and weekly inspections of pollution control equipment that prevents particulate matter from escaping into the air. The Consent Decree also requires Lehigh to pay a $202,500 penalty, as well as stipulated penalties for any future violations of the corrective action requirements in the Consent Decree.

Particulate matter, which can consist of airborne solid particles or liquid droplets, is a significant public health concern. Particles small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs can cause several cardiopulmonary health problems and can aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

In a separate matter, Lehigh has agreed to install and operate equipment to reduce mercury pollution no later than March 2012, one year ahead of expected federal requirements. The mercury controls are expected to reduce mercury emissions from the Union Bridge plant by approximately 80 percent from current levels -- from nearly 400 pounds per year to 86 pounds per year. In the interim, Lehigh has agreed to modify its operation to reduce mercury emissions by approximately 92 pounds per year and to evaluate further operational changes that could result in additional reductions. The agreement will also allow the plant to use treated dried sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, in its fuel mix. Sewage sludge is one of the final byproducts from the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants.

Mercury is a highly toxic metal that bioaccumulates in fish and poses a health risk from fish consumption. Coal-fired power plants and portland cement plants are among the largest sources of mercury emissions. The reductions from Lehigh, coupled with the mercury emission reductions the Healthy Air Act requires from the State’s coal-fired power plants commencing in January 2010, will reduce Maryland’s annual statewide emissions of mercury from nearly 2,500 pounds to approximately 600 pounds. “Until more stringent federal requirements are in place, MDE has been proactively looking for every opportunity to reduce mercury emissions from all sources in the State,” continued Secretary Wilson. “Reducing mercury in our environment is important to protect the health of all Marylanders. Ten species of fish are subject to mercury consumption advisories in our State, so we must take every step we can to address this situation.”

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Title: EPA wants crackdown on cement plants' mercury

Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Publication: San Francisco Cronicle
Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday that will require cement plants in the United States - including plants in Cupertino and Santa Cruz County - to reduce stack emissions of mercury, dust and other pollutants.

For a decade, environmental groups have been urging the EPA to set standards for the potent neurotoxin that comes out of the stacks and falls into oceans and rivers, eventually contaminating fish and raising mercury levels in the humans who eat the seafood.

Mercury can harm the nervous system, affecting normal growth, cognition and behavior. It's particularly dangerous to children.

The new standards, which apply to 99 cement plants in 35 states, are expected to reduce pollutants by 90 percent, said representatives of environmental groups who held a press conference to praise the federal action.

"The Obama EPA is waking up to community voices," said Marti Sinclair, chairwoman of the Sierra Club's national air toxics committee.

The plants in Cupertino and Davenport, near Moss Landing in Santa Cruz County, are among the largest in the nation. Their mercury emissions equal those of coal-fired power plants, and give the Bay Area and Monterey Bay Area the highest mercury levels in the state, officials say. The mercury comes, in part, from limestone feedstock, an ingredient used in making cement, and petroleum coke fuel, used in plant furnaces.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District regulate the plants, and haven't complained about unsafe emissions levels at either one.

Under required reporting laws, the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant, formerly Hanson Permanente Cement in Cupertino, declared discharging 500 pounds of mercury in 2006. The plant is located south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Last month, the EPA put Cupertino's Stevens Creek Elementary School on a list of 62 schools nationwide that need nearby air-quality testing because it is located within 2 miles of the cement plant, officials said.

Cemex's RMC Pacific Materials plant in Davenport, reported 175 pounds of mercury compounds in 2006. The plant has been operating for 100 years.

Only one-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury dumped into a 20-acre lake can make fish unsafe to eat, according to California health officials.

The Portland Cement Association, a trade group for the 99 plants with 163 active kilns, issued a statement Tuesday saying it is reviewing the proposed rule and would make comments.

For the past year, it has "worked with the EPA to collect data for this anticipated proposal and continues to support regulatory approaches that allow the industry to produce the cement necessary for constructing and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure in an environmentally responsible manner."

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Title: Differing views of the quarry: Controversy a constant companion as cement makers continue operations

By: Bruce Barton
Publication: Los Altos Town Crier

Posted: March 25, 2009

The sight evokes a reaction that’s slightly less overwhelming than surveying the expanse of the Grand Canyon. Workers are mining a gigantic pit encompassing some 600 acres and plunging more than 700 feet deep into the earth. Huge dump trucks, each capable of carrying 150 tons, cart rock from the bottom. The layering of the rock in the walls of this man-made canyon exposes geologic activity extending over more than 100 million years.

This pit is not in some remote area. It’s located just south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, and less than a mile from Cupertino residences.

Welcome to the Lehigh Hanson cement quarry, where the mining of limestone and production of cement has gone on since 1939. The legendary Henry J. Kaiser opened the quarry, which bore his name for decades until Hanson Permanente Cement Inc. undertook control in 1987. A German corporation, Heidelberg Cement Group, assumed operations in 2007, and along with the ownership change came a new name, Lehigh Hanson. It currently employs between 150 and 170 workers at the Cupertino site.

 Cement and the environment

Of course, there are natural consequences to mining and making cement: traffic, noise, air pollution and land disturbance. The industrial detritus has led to a history of compliant, although uneasy, relations with the residential communities that grew up around it. Company representatives have used public outreach and education to try to allay fears about health hazards and other long-term environmental impacts.

“We’re trying to answer the public’s questions,” said Marvin Howell, a land-use specialist with Lehigh Hanson.

Plant manager Henrik Wesseling points to the Heidelberg company’s “openness and fairness as soft factors of success.”

They’re quick to address the benefits of the quarry.

“The public rarely understands how much they use our products,” said Howell, who cited the statistic that 70 percent of the cement used in Santa Clara County – 50 percent in the Bay Area – comes from the quarry. “(Being here) means low-cost building materials. If the quarry were not here, (cement) would come from far, far away at far greater cost.”

There also would be additional environmental costs, company officials said, resulting from transporting materials from distant areas.

“No site in the world has closer oversight than this facility,” said Howell, adding that its locally produced cement benefits much LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction.

But this is little consolation to most surrounding residents who have concerns about environmental hazards and blight.

 New reclamation plan

Reclamation – the restoration of the mined areas – has been the quarry’s most visible overture to public concerns about the scarring of the land. The quarry has reclaimed some land, but a new “reclamation plan amendment” – an extension of the quarry’s 1985 reclamation plan – bids to expand mining acreage. The plan will be making news over the next few years because of community meetings and the inevitable resident environmental concerns voiced at the hearings. One was held in Cupertino in October. A second hearing is due sometime in May. A date had not been scheduled as of press time.

Faced with the probability of quarry operations for at least another 25 years, Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon, an engineer and company owner, wonders whether it’s time to call a halt.

“They shouldn’t have a quarry in a residential area,” said Almon, who has just launched a Web site, www.quarryno.com, and plans to enlist 5,000 registered county voters in an effort to protest the quarry plan.

Almon, initially drawn to the issue when he discovered residue on his car he believes came from the quarry, said he is concerned about health risks.

He produced a March 2008 report from the environmental group Earthjustice, which listed Hanson at No. 5 among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top 27 worst kilns for mercury pollution in the nation.

But Sandra James, a former Cupertino City Councilwoman and the quarry’s community affairs manager, said the EPA information, collected in 2006, incorrectly reported readings at twice the actual levels.

“The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has determined that mercury emissions from this plant remain at a safe level and do not pose a risk to the community,” James said.

Measuring pollution

In November, the air quality management district installed an ambient air monitor near the quarry and Stevens Creek Boulevard, which ends at the quarry entrance. The monitor continuously measures particulate-matter levels in the air.

“Our agency is doing some additional testing of fugitive emissions of cement dust and road dust, and any findings will be compared to the most recent Health Risk Assessment,” said Aaron Richardson, a district spokesman. Such assessments are done regularly. “If the exposure numbers are substantially higher as a result of this testing, putting the facility over the 10 in 1 million cancer risk threshold, the Toxic Hot Spots Act would require that the facility notify the public. In such a case, there could also be potential operational ramifications in terms of their air quality permitting requirements. But at this point we are not necessarily anticipating that our testing will result in such increased exposure results.”

Los Altos Hills resident June Strough, who has lived “up the hill” from the quarry since 1965, remembered a time more than 20 years ago when “plumes of smoke” came out of the cement plant. The offending facilities are polluting far less with improvements in technology and after undergoing a change from a wet kiln to dry kiln process in the early 1980s. But Strough is far from satisfied.

“They’re destroying the environment,” she said. “They’re taking the mountain out of here.”

She said she has no faith in the county or other agencies regulating the quarry (“They’re a bunch of limp noodles.”) and added, “There’s no way to stop it but with a big, massive lawsuit.”

 Blight factor

James Walgren, Los Altos’ assistant city manager, said the quarry’s impact on Los Altos is primarily visual. In a 2007 letter to county planner Tom Connolly, Walgren said the new quarry plans that indicate expanded mining “may create significant blight within the hillside viewsheds.”

Walgren asked Connolly to address such areas in a draft environmental impact report for the plan. That EIR won’t get under way until quarry officials submit their final application.

The most striking visual, seen from the Los Altos valley floor looking west, is approximately 90 acres of treeless hillside, once a dumping ground, or “overburden” area for quarry rocks found unsuitable, that is currently undergoing a reclamation effort.

“There are two big issues going on here: whether they can operate and the reclamation plan,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, who represents the Los Altos-Cupertino area. “There’s no question they can operate – they’re grandfathered in,” which refers to old businesses that can continue to operate because they existed before new laws that would have restricted their operations. “The question,” Kniss said, “is (the final outcome of) the reclamation plan.”

The plan is slowly moving through county channels, with debate centering on the question of operations expansion and the extent of that expansion. An extensive geological study is currently under way.

Expansion concerns

The vast majority of residents speaking at two 2007 scoping meetings and the October hearing are opposed to the new plan. Lehigh Hanson officials delayed plans in 2007 after hearing from residents who felt some of the new mining proposed was too close to homes. The company also discovered it needed to do more geological work.

(For more on the planning process, visit the Santa Clara County Web site, www.sccgov.org, and search under “Hanson.”)

Existing operations cover 618 acres. The new plan would expand to 917 acres. But quarry officials note 238 acres have been added as buffer lands that won’t be used for mining. That leaves 61 additional acres that could be mined. Quarry lands total approximately 3,200 acres.

James said the added mining acreage does not translate to more limestone production.

“This quarry will never produce more than it has in the past,” she said.

Howell said quarry officials are scheduled to present an application for the preliminary reclamation plan amendment to the county by February 2010, and hope to have final approval by May 2011.

Members of the Committee for Green Foothills said they are keeping track of the plan. Spokesman Brian Schmidt could not be reached for comment.

‘A benign thing’

Almon acknowledged his endgame – shutting down the quarry – is “a big deal.” But he looked ahead, perhaps decades away, when the limestone runs out and the quarry closes, and wondered whether there would be any tree planting or major reclamation at all. In addition, he’s puzzled that “officials treat it as a benign thing. These are all good people (in government). For the life of me, I can’t understand it.”

He seems only half-joking when he suggests renting the blimp at Moffett Field and taking Cupertino and Los Altos council members directly over the quarry.

“It’s the only way they can get a proper view,” Almon said.

Contact Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com.

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Title: Lehigh plans to reduce mercury

By: Carrie Ann Knauer, Times Staff Writer
Publication: Carroll County Times
Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2009

UNION BRIDGE — The leader of an environmental watchdog group will be in New Windsor tonight to discuss a report that revealed high mercury releases out of the Lehigh Cement Co. plant in Union Bridge, but company leaders say the problem has already been solved.

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, co-authored a report in July that revealed Lehigh’s Union Bridge plant released 376 pounds of mercury into the air in 2007 — up from the 2006 reported amount of 35 pounds. The report also questioned why the inputs of mercury did not equal the outputs, and hypothesized that the plant could be releasing as much as 1,500 pounds per year based on the reported mercury inputs.

The 376 pounds of mercury per year qualified the plant to be the second-highest mercury-emitting cement kiln in Maryland, according to the report. Much of the mercury released in cement production comes from the coal burned to produce the heat needed in the operation, Schaeffer said. But whereas coal-burning power plants have federally-regulated caps on mercury emissions, cement kilns do not, he said.

To put it in perspective, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers coal-fired power plants to be the largest remaining sources of mercury emissions in the country. The state’s top mercury emitter in 2007 was Constellation Energy’s Brandon Shores power plant in Pasadena, with 550 pounds of mercury released. Maryland’s coal-burning power plants are required to cut back mercury pollution by 80 percent by 2010 and by 90 percent by 2013 under the state’s 2006 Healthy Air Act.

Schaeffer is the guest speaker tonight at a meeting hosted by the New Windsor Community Action Project, or NEWCAP. Schaeffer will discuss how the cement industry is an unregulated source of substantial mercury emissions into the environment and what changes are on the horizon.

The EPA has been studying mercury emissions from cement kilns, said Dale Kemery, a spokesman for the EPA, and a proposed ruling on a standard for cement kilns is expected to be released this spring, with the final ruling to be announced within a year from that date.

Re-examining the numbers

Kent Martin, plant manager of Lehigh Cement in Union Bridge, said Lehigh and its parent company Lehigh Hanson have been working on analyzing and decreasing mercury amounts for some time.

“In the last year, I’ve discussed mercury more than I have in the past 20 years [of my career in the industry],” Martin said.

In the summer of 2007, Lehigh participated in a study with the EPA where they collected composite samples of all raw materials and fuels used in the cement production process and analyzed them for mercury content.

From the raw material and fuel input analysis for the EPA study, the company discovered that there was a discrepancy between their measured input of mercury and their measured output of mercury, said Kurt Deery, an environmental engineer for Lehigh. The amount of mercury going into the plant should equal the amount coming out, Deery said, but their outputs, which were measured through air samples taken at the emission stack, were much lower.

The plant conducted more detailed technical studies over several months in 2008, Deery said, to follow the mercury life cycle throughout different operating conditions. Through their research, they realized that during 2006 and 2007 when the company had reported mercury emissions of about 36 pounds, the output had more likely been 376 pounds.

So while it looked like the mercury amounts had drastically jumped between 2006 and 2007, the numbers had actually remained the same, Martin said. Lehigh sent the information to the EPA and their records were updated, he said.

The stack tests showed that when the plant operates under its normal procedures, it would release 36 pounds of mercury over a year, Deery said. But the company found through different tests that more mercury could be released when parts of the plant were not running, and that other releases of mercury were being trapped and recirculated through the system, creating a rising concentration.

There was also another problem discovered in the reporting process that related to the measured mercury inputs at the plant, Martin said, that revealed mercury inputs weren’t as high as had been reported to the EPA. When studying how much mercury was in the coal fuel, Lehigh was taking samples from its fine coal rather than its coarse coal, he said, which is what other cement plants were sampling and measuring.

Coarse coal is the virgin material trucked to the plant — the raw material, Martin said. The fine coal is the coal that has been dried and ground in a process that reuses hot exhaust gases from another process within the plant, and those gases already contained vaporized mercury. During the grinding process, the fine coal absorbs the mercury, and thus the coal mercury sample from the plant showed a higher concentration than the actual raw input contained, Martin said.

The company believes that 376 pounds per year is the accurate amount of mercury released at the plant each year, Martin said, and was nowhere near the 1,500 pounds that was hypothesized in the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice report. However, Martin said he believes they may be able to cut the 376 pounds in half.

Working to reduce emissions

After the research this summer determined that mercury was accumulating at higher and higher concentrations within the processes, such as in the captured exhaust fumes and dust particles, Lehigh officials decided they wanted to find a new output stream for the mercury besides air exhaust, Martin said.

As a result, the company began researching how fine dust particles that contain mercury that are collected in the kiln dust collector, or baghouse, can be mixed with the final product. Normally, dust collected in the baghouse is stored and recycled as a raw feed component, Martin said, and the mercury contained in that dust keeps circulating through the system or is possibly released in the air exhaust.

In September, Lehigh began using a pneumatic truck to carry portions of the baghouse dust to the finish mill and then mixing it with the final product. Studies show that the mercury mixed and contained in concrete does not leach out of the set product, Martin said, and thus is not a threat to the environment.

The company also built a permanent addition to the plant that will transport the baghouse dust directly to the finish mill where it can be carefully added a low levels to the finished product, Martin said.

This is a process that is already used in some parts of Europe, Martin said, but Lehigh’s Union Bridge plant may be the first one in the country to do this process.

The new addition to the plant has not been put into operation yet because the company is now in its regular 35-day winter shutdown period for maintenance, Martin said. The plant will resume operations Jan. 28, he said, and then the company will record what impact the new process has on its mercury emissions.

While the EPA is expected to release a draft of proposed standards for mercury emissions at cement kilns this spring, Martin said he is confident that Lehigh’s operations in Union Bridge will meet or even be significantly below the regulations that the EPA determines because of these new procedures.

Schaeffer said he has seen Lehigh’s plan to improve its mercury releases and plans to give them to an engineer his organization works with for evaluation on the plan’s possible effectiveness.

“I think it’s encouraging that they’re taking it seriously,” Schaeffer said. “If they follow through, it seems like it’s going to be a good thing.”

IF YOU GO

What: NEWCAP meeting on mercury emissions at Lehigh Cement

When: 6:30 tonight

Where: New Windsor Inn, 106 Main St., New Windsor

Information: www.new caponline.org

Mercury a concern

Mercury is naturally occurring, but is also a known neurotoxin, said Dr. Robert Goyer, who chaired the Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury for the National Research Council.

When mercury is released from a power plant or cement kiln, it is in its inorganic form, Goyer said. But as it gradually deposits on land and gets washed into waterways, it gets converted by bacteria into an organic form known as methylmercury. The new compound works its way through the food chain, Goyer said, so that fish consumption becomes a mercury concern for humans.

Methylmercury has been proven to impair brain development in children, particularly in intelligence, Goyer said. Exposure can also disrupt the central nervous system and cardiovascular system, according to the committee’s report.

Reach staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer at 410-857-7874 or carrie.knauer@carrollcountytimes.com.

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Title: Chasing the Quarry: The state battles global warming in cement plants like Cupertino's Hanson Permanente

By: Chris Amico
Publication: metroactive.com
Posted: January 07, 2009

FROM the lip of the Hanson Permanente quarry, on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Cupertino, the Santa Clara Valley stretches out in panorama. Few cement plants in California are this close to this many people. Most of the state's 11 kilns are well away from population centers, close enough for workers to commute, but otherwise out of sight. Here, suburbia reaches right up to the edges of the Permanente land, homes suddenly giving way to an industrial road leading up to the expansive plant and the limestone mining operation behind it.

As a result, engineers and executives will have to figure out how to make an essentially dirty process clean—or at least cleaner.

As California tries to fight global warming—with or without the rest of the country—cement manufacturing remains one of the trickiest industries to regulate.

"I don't think there's any [industry] quite like cement," says Mike Tollstrup, one of the state officials overseeing California's effort to fight global warming. "There are not a lot of facilities. Cement is used everywhere. There are significant issues of leakage. If we don't do it right, the potential for increasing emissions is a real concern."

In 2006, California adopted Assembly Bill 32, a law mandating that by 2020 the state cut greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels. Tollstrup's agency, the California Air Resources Board, which will oversee implementation, released a Proposed Scoping Plan a couple of months ago mapping out how the state will reach its goal.

Cement is one of the industries singled out by regulators because, as Tollstrup says, it's both necessary and necessarily polluting. Unchecked, carbon emissions from the cement sector would rise 23 percent, from 9.7 million metric tons in 2004 to 12.6 million metric tons in 2020, according to state statistics.

Demand for building materials moves in concert with population growth, and California's population continues to grow. By 2030, the U.S. Census projects it will exceed 46 million people.

"Long-term trends look promising if you're a cement maker," says Andy O'Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association. "First and foremost, any economy is going to need cement from somewhere to continue to grow. We're working from that premise, and state government seems supportive."

Magic Dust

Concrete is a blend of materials—cement plus fine and coarse aggregates and water—that harden into a firm structure. Cement is the glue holding it all together. In dry form, it's a chalky powder. At every stage of cement production, there is something to evoke an environmentalist's worst nightmare.

It starts with limestone. Behind the Permanente plant, an open quarry funnels down 750 feet into the hillside. Twice a week, mining crews detonate a series of explosives set into the rock face. Water trucks hose down the loose gravel.

Raw ore moves by conveyor belt through grinders until each chunk reaches a uniform size, about a cubic centimeter. Turning limestone into lime is the main source of carbon emissions in the cement-making process. The mined rock must be heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. That uses massive amounts of fuel.

The most common fuel in cement plants is coal, though Permanente doesn't use it. This plant relies entirely on petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refinement. "Pet coke" isn't any better for the air than coal (chemically, it's similar), but it disposes of otherwise troublesome waste.

Heating limestone turns it into lime, releasing carbon dioxide in the chemical reaction. What comes out is called "clinker," which is ground into a fine powder.

The oft-cited measure of cement's impact on global warming is 1 ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement produced. California plants, on average, are about 10 percent cleaner, putting out .895 tons of CO2 for each ton of cement. The state would like to see that number drop to .80.

The danger, say all involved, is that cement production could shift out of state. While California's plants continue to clean up, if their products become too expensive, local builders could cut costs by buying from out of state, negating any emissions gains made here. At the moment, China is the biggest supplier of cement, as well as the world's largest source of greenhouse gases.

To combat production leakage, the A.B. 32 scoping plan proposes to apply a carbon intensity standard to all cement sold in California, not just what's produced here. When measuring the carbon footprint of imported cement, regulators say, they would count every part of the process, from mining to calcination to shipping.

Manufacturers see this as the best part of the state's plan. Counting the 20 percent increase in emissions resulting from transport, California kilns maintain an edge.

California consumes more cement than it produces, so some cement is always imported. In a good year (which 2008 was not), the state's 11 kilns can put out 12 million to 13 million metric tons a year. Builders use as much as 16 million tons.

"We think that we can set limits that would apply to out-of-state and out-of- country facilities, too," Tollstrup says. "That way, if you want to sell cement in the state of California, you have to meet that requirement."

California has done this before, Tollstrup says, pointing to the rule that all gasoline sold in the state must contain an oxygenator—a requirement that led refiners to add MTBE, and later ethanol to fuel blends. But the state tried applying local emissions standards to automobiles, too, provoking a multiyear fight with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Bush Administration, which tried to block California's tailpipe rules. With George Bush about to leave office, Tollstrup is optimistic.

Cold Hard Cash

In theory, cleaning up will be good for California business. In 2020, according to an economic analysis of A.B. 32 commissioned by the Air Resources Board, the state's economy will have increased production activity by $27 billion, and overall personal income by $14 billion.

For cement makers, better energy efficiency and smoother production processes should save money, the state says. Industry-wide, California expects cement plants to save $3.4 million annually, spread over the next 12 years.

From the state's perspective, there's only so much that can be done to reduce cement's carbon footprint. Roads and bridges built over the next decade may require alternative ways to make concrete.

Tom Pyle, an engineer with CalTrans, deals with such issues every day.

When CalTrans builds a bridge, he explains, its primary concerns are safety, structural longevity and cost. Solving global warming isn't the agency's goal (though Pyle counts himself an environmentalist). He and other concerned builders have been trying something that addresses both issues.

In large-scale projects, Pyle says, a common problem is a kind of rust that eats away at the strength of concrete. For a building, it's a cancer. "One way to stop it is to put fly ash in," he says. "From an engineering point of view, it's a medicine that stops this cancer." Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal, so it's not entirely clean, but many see it as a step forward.

At the Permanente plant, there is also talk of using the kiln's leftover heat to generate electricity, something happening in other parts of the world, but which no other facility in California does.

"Back in the '40s, most cement plants created their own power, only because we didn't have a stable utility sector," Shane K. Alesi, a Heidelberg executive, said.

O'Hare, of the Portland Cement Association, says the use of concrete in home construction can save on heating bills That's something that Pyle sees as well.

"I believe the cement industry is seeing opportunity," the engineer said. "As our world starts to change, we're going to start to look for sustainability. To me, as a concrete geeky kind of engineer, sustainability means building things that are going to last more than a generation. And for CalTrans, what we're looking at is extending the life of our roads and bridges.

It's hard to predict where the cement industry will be in 12 years. Emissions will probably be lower. If the state's plan works out, those greenhouse gases will be gone, not just displaced.

Marvin E. Howell, director of land use planning at Hanson Aggregates (now also part of Heidelberg), said the big changes won't occur at cement plants. Instead, A.B. 32 is "going to mean changes in how people use the product."

"Everybody is going to have to change," Howell said. "It's not just us."

Tollstrup paints the most optimistic picture of the industry in 2020. "I expect that the facilities in California will be the most efficient in the world," he says."They're just going to be ultraclean facilities by the time we get to the end game here."

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Title: Activists: Mercury pollution from cement kilns unchecked

By Sara Michael
Publication: The Washington Examiner
Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cement kilns in Maryland and across the country emit thousands of pounds of mercury into the air and remain unchecked by federal regulators, according to a new report from an environmental watchdog group.

"It has taken [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] forever to get to this problem," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, the environmental law advocacy group that released the report.

The country?s more than 150 cement kilns emit nearly 23,000 pounds of mercury each year, according to EPA estimates used in the report.

There are at least three kilns at two locations in Maryland, including Union Bridge and Frederick. Essroc?s two kilns in Frederick each emit 31 pounds of mercury a year, according to the report. Lehigh?s kiln in Union Bridge emits 35 pounds per year, but has the capacity to emit 1,539 pounds.

The EPA has not set standards to control the pollution, activists said. Making cement relies on fuels and materials that are high in mercury.

"Thanks to EPA?s neglect, the cement industry?s mercury emissions have not only gone uncontrolled, but have largely escaped public scrutiny," the report states.

The groups called on the EPA to follow through on acommitment to regulate the mercury emissions from the kilns, saying it has taken 10 years for the EPA to take up the matter.

"The EPA has finally taken the first step to regulating the cement kiln?s mercury [emissions] and have collected data," said James Pew, staff attorney at Earthjustice, a public interest law firm that released the study along with the Environmental Integrity Project.

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said there are regulations in place for cement kilns, but was unable to give details of the restrictions. The agency is now evaluating whether those regulations need to be changed, and officials expect that to be complete sometime next year.

Kemery declined to respond to the groups? claims that the agency has dragged its feet in adopting mercury regulations.

Mercury air emissions have been reduced by 45 percent since 1990 through several industrial regulations, the EPA said.

The advocates also recommended state regulatory agencies test for emissions and require cement kilns to install mercury pollution control devices.

Over the past year, the Maryland Department of the Environment has incorporated mercury into the overall emissions tests, said spokesman Robert Ballinger.

"We test for that for inspection and permitting purposes," he said.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can be hazardous for pregnant women and small children. It falls close to the source, contaminating waterways near the kiln, such as the Chesapeake Bay, Schaeffer said.

"It?s hard to exaggerate the toxicity of this particular chemical."

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Title: EPA urged to control mercury from cement kilns

By Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Publication: San Francisco Cronicle
Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2008

(07-23) 20:42 PDT -- Environmental groups Wednesday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce a law that would control the thousands of pounds of toxic mercury discharged into the atmosphere every year by cement kilns in the United States.

Two of the nation's worst mercury-emitting cement kilns are in Northern California - in Cupertino and Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. They dump hundreds of pounds of the poison into the air each year and help make the Bay Area's mercury emissions the highest of any region in California.

The emissions are double those of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the next highest.

Large bodies of water - San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay and Lake Huron, among others - are vulnerable to airborne mercury from 150 cement kilns across the country, said a report issued by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project, two groups specializing in environmental law. Even small amounts of mercury are toxic and can cause numerous health problems, particularly for children.

The groups want the EPA to set standards that require continuous stack monitoring and pollution-control devices, among other measures.

"We are recommending that EPA get off its duff and regulate mercury as it should have more than 10 years ago," said Eric Shaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement.

On Wednesday, the two environmental groups for the first time released a figure estimating that U.S. kilns release 23,000 pounds of mercury compounds a year.

That's nearly double the amount previously reported by the companies. The revised figure comes from the EPA as part of a new rule-making process driven by lawsuits by the Sierra Club and others over the past years.

The mercury comes, in part, from limestone feedstock and petroleum coke fuel.

An EPA spokesman, Dale Kemery, said in a statement that the EPA is in the process of reconsidering the current mercury emissions standards for new and existing cement kilns. Since 1990, U.S. mercury air emissions have been reduced by 45 percent, he said.

The two groups say that 1990 amendments to Clean Air Act required the EPA to identify sectors that are major sources of air toxics and set emission standards. The deadline for cement kiln standards was 1997, and subsequent court orders called for mercury regulations on kilns, they said.

The Northern California cement kilns put out a combined 675 pounds of mercury, according to company reporting for 2006, the latest year available. The amount of mercury emitted from each plant equals mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, the biggest emitters in the world.

The Bay Area's five oil refineries contribute 58 percent of the region's mercury air emission. The Cupertino cement kiln alone contributes 35 percent, 39 crematoria contribute 5 percent, and 240 other sources contribute 2 percent, according to research by state scientists and the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a scientific research center.

A potent toxic metal, mercury has long been known to interfere with the development of the nervous system, impairing the brain in growing children and affecting IQ, behavior and physical growth. In adults, the toxic metal can affect memory and cognition, and lead to numbness in extremities.

Mercury enters the food chain when it falls into bays and oceans and accumulates in big fish, such as swordfish, tuna and shark. Only 1/70th of a teaspoon dumped into a 20-acre lake can make fish unsafe to eat, scientists say.

In San Francisco Bay, anglers are warned against eating striped bass, carp, catfish and some other species because of mercury contamination.

The two cement kilns in Northern California are:

Hanson Permanente Cement in Cupertino. The plant, which released about 500 pounds of mercury compounds in 2006, is listed in the report the third-worst kiln in the country. The report notes that the Hanson plant "is located within a major residential area in close proximity to several Cupertino schools."

Representatives of Hanson said they wouldn't be able to comment on the emissions.

At the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Brian Batement, director of engineering, said the cement kiln is "within levels that are considered acceptable." The company performed a health risk assessment in 1994, and there have been a series of updates over the years, he said.

CEMEX's RMC Pacific Materials plant in Davenport (Santa Cruz County). The plant reported about 175 pounds of mercury compounds and is listed as the ninth worst on the kiln list. The plant is "right beside homes and farms along California's coastline and only 40 miles north of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary," the report said.

Jennifer Borgen, a spokeswoman for CEMEX USA, said the plant is in compliance with all requirements regarding mercury. This year, the state approved the plant's health risk assessment sent by the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. The corporation is working closely with the EPA on new mercury emissions limits, which should be proposed in September, she said.

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Title: Lehigh Cement Company to Modernize Mitchell, Indiana Cement Plant.  - 

[Why not Modernize the Cupertino Plant?]
Publication: Business Wire
Posted: Friday, October 12 2007

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Lehigh Cement Company, a subsidiary of the German building materials company, HeidelbergCement, today announced plans to expand and upgrade its cement manufacturing plant in Mitchell, Indiana. The modernized plant will use the latest technology and equipment to significantly reduce energy usage, fuel consumption and emissions per ton of cement produced. Lehigh Cement Company will work closely and cooperatively with the responsible government and permitting agencies to meet air quality standards and other requirements. Lehigh Cement Company has served customers in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and the entire midwest with high quality cement made at the Mitchell, Indiana location since 1902.

"This major investment in the Mitchell plant is an important part of HeidelbergCement's effort to bring quality building materials products to our customers in fifty countries worldwide," said Lehigh Cement President and CEO, Helmut Erhard. Executive Vice President, Albert Scheuer, who will succeed Mr. Erhard as North American CEO in January 2008, stressed the benefits of advanced technical design. "We have built new plants and expanded existing facilities from the United States to Turkey and from Canada to China. We have the technical ability and experience to manufacture cement in a manner which is environmentally sustainable, while maintaining the highest quality standards," said Dr. Scheuer.

Daniel Harrington, President of Lehigh Cement's North Division, emphasized the need for close cooperation between Lehigh Cement and local and state officials, customers, employees and the community. "We have played a key role in the community for generations," stated Mr. Harrington. "We look forward to open dialogue with the state of Indiana and the city of Mitchell as we move through the permitting process." "Southern Indiana continues to be a leader in manufacturing," said Indiana Lt. Governor Becky Skillman. "This project in my home county proves we can bring about economic growth in Indiana while continuing to be good stewards of our environment." City of Mitchell Mayor Butch Chastain said, "Lehigh Cement has been a major employer in our city and has always been a good neighbor. We are confident that the plant expansion will be a big boost for our town."

Cement is the key ingredient for the production of concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world. Lehigh Cement Company remains committed to supplying cement for the continued growth of the Midwest U.S. market.

Lehigh Cement Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of HeidelbergCement, one of the largest cement and construction materials manufacturers in the world. HeidelbergCement is a founding member of the Cement Sustainability Initiative under the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. All HeidelbergCement business units, including Lehigh Cement Company, are built on the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, ecology and social responsibility. Lehigh creates added value for its customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders. The company preserves natural resources - the basis of its economic activity, and recognize its social responsibility towards its neighbors and employees.

Lehigh Cement Company, along with its associated companies, is a major North American manufacturer of cement, concrete and construction materials. Lehigh has served the construction industry in North America for 110 years as a producer of high quality portland and specialty cements for use in concrete products. Lehigh operates 13 cement plants and employs about 6135 people in North America. Lehigh's parent, HeidelbergCement, recently acquired Hanson, plc, a major global supplier of aggregates, ready mixed concrete and construction products. With half of Hanson's assets located in the United States and Canada, Lehigh and Hanson provide customers a wide range of products. Lehigh and its related companies produce and supply gray and white portland cements, masonry cements, custom color portland and masonry cements, aggregates, lightweight aggregates, ready mixed concrete, concrete pipe, cement block, pre-cast and pre-stressed cement products, fly ash and other pozzolanic materials. Lehigh's products are widely used by ready mixed concrete suppliers and for numerous highway, architectural, industrial and marine applications. Visit Lehigh Cement Company's website at www.lehighcement.com.

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Title: China Environment Forum

A China Environmental Health Research Brief 
"Environmental and Health Threats from Cement Production in China"
By: By Jung-Myung Cho and Suzanne Giannini-Spohn
Publication: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Posted: 8/30/2007

This research brief was produced as part of the China Environment Forum’s partnership with Western Kentucky University on the U.S. AID-supported China Environmental Health Project

China is the world’s largest producer of cement, manufacturing 1.24 billion tons in 2006 alone.[1] China’s cement production has grown about 10 percent per year over the past two decades, and is now growing even faster to keep up with massive urbanization. According to a press release from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, China produced 620 million tons of cement in the first half of 2007, which is an increase of 16 percent over the same period in the previous year.[2] Today China produces roughly half of total global output, whereas the next three largest producers—India, Japan, and the United States—combined produce less than 20 percent of the world’s cement. China’s cement demand will continue to be high in the near future to meet development goals, with cement production expected to peak at 1.25 trillion tons (Mt) around the year 2010.[3]

Challenges of Cement Production in China: Huge Energy Consumer and Air Polluter

By nature, cement production is a highly energy-intensive process. It is estimated that China’s cement industry—much of which is produced in energy inefficient, highly polluting kilns—consumes roughly six percent of the nation’s energy, with 80 percent of that coming directly from coal and other fossil fuels and the remaining 20 percent from electricity.[4] Cement is made by combining clinker—a mixture of limestone and other raw materials that have been pyroprocessed in the cement kiln—with gypsum and other cement additives. Clinker production typically occurs in kilns heated to about 1,450 degrees Celsius, making clinker production the most energy-intensive process in cement manufacturing.

China’s cement sector is inefficient due to the large number of small or outdated kilns. The kiln, which predominantly burns coal, is the major energy-consuming component of the cement-making process. There are basically two types of cement kilns used for the production of clinker: vertical shaft and rotary kilns. Most of the cement produced in China is made in relatively inefficient and polluting vertical shaft kilns with poor combustion efficiency, although some of these kilns are being closed as larger rotary kilns are being constructed, especially in the more developed regions in eastern China.

While shaft kilns are common in China, they have not been used in the West since the turn of the 20th century. China still uses shaft kilns because they are smaller and cheaper and thus can be brought online faster than rotary kilns. For example, it takes one year or less to build a shaft kiln, while a rotary kiln can take two to three years.[5]

The cement sector is growing rapidly, for example, in 2002 the World Business Council for Sustainable Development projected that China’s cement production would reach 750 million tons by 2010, exceeded the projection in 2006 when production reached 1.24 billion tons.[6] Energy consumption varies significantly among Chinese cement producers due to the wide range of technologies in use. Modern cement precalciner plants in China are as efficient as any in the world, while some of the waste-heat power generation kiln plants use more than twice as much energy per unit of clinker produced, although some of the wasted energy will be re-captured. All of these plants depend on coal, which makes the wasteful plants major contributors to air pollution.[7] Although the use of coal has tended to decrease over the last ten years, coal consumption for shaft kilns has had almost no change indicating that the use of these kilns has peaked.

Annual Chinese Cement Production by Rotary and Shaft Kilns, 1985-2005.[8]

Toxins from Cement Plants

The cement industry is a major source of multiple air toxics, among them dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals, mercury, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions. Ambient air levels of total suspended particulates (TSP) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Chinese cities are among the highest in the world. In turn these heavy pollutant loads are closely associated with significant respiratory illness and approximately 200,000 premature deaths each year in urban areas.[9] Cement plants are responsible for over 40 percent of total industrial particulate emissions.[10]

China contributes approximately 14 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, of which Chinese cement plants are responsible for about 6 to 8 percent. These emissions are produced in roughly equal parts from fuel combustion and the release of carbon dioxide from limestone at high temperature. Carbon dioxide emissions from small Chinese cement plants are two or more times higher than plants in industrialized nations due to poor efficiencies requiring more fuel use.[11]

A 2006 American Chemical Society publication on air emissions in China estimated that total mercury (Hg) emissions from all anthropogenic sources increased at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent from 1995 to 2003.[12] Nonferrous metals smelting and coal combustion together contributed almost 80 percent of total mercury emissions during the past decade in China. Chinese cement production was the third largest contributor to total mercury emissions in 2003.[13]

Moreover, the production of clinker, which is the most necessary procedure in cement manufacturing, is also the source of almost all toxic pollutants such as dioxins and furans in China. Cement kilns destroy dioxins in hazardous waste fuels during the clinker combustion process, but dioxins can be formed after combustion if the offgases are not quickly cooled. These exhaust gases must pass through air pollution control devices, such as electrostatic precipitators or fabric filtration baghouses, in order to reduce fine particulate emissions.[14]

Toxic emissions produced from cement manufacturing are very harmful to humans and wildlife as several are persistent bioaccumulative toxics that can be transported inter-continentally.

International Initiatives and Promising Global Partnerships

In efforts to overcome the challenges of cement manufacturing, the Chinese government has extensively developed government policies and programs to improve the energy efficiency and pollution control in the cement sector. China has been proactively engaged in various international initiatives, such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which is helping China in the adoption of advanced cement production technologies and efficient management skills.

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate joins Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States together in an innovative new effort to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies in eight sectors.[15] The partnership created task forces to promote activities to expand investment and trade in cleaner energy technologies, goods and services in these key market sectors. The Cement Task Force aims to facilitate the uptake of best available technology and environmental management systems in partnership countries through the introduction and/or replacement of old technology in favor of dry processing technologies, energy-efficient technologies, process improvements, power generation from waste heat recovery, and enhanced co-processing of low grade primary fuels and industry wastes. The partners have also committed to measure and reduce key air emissions, including CO2, SOx, NO2, and particulate matter.[16]

Among the member countries, China has been one of the most active participants in the Cement Task Force. Through cement-related partnership activities, China aims to reduce energy use and pollution, and maximize the industry’s economic performance and output. The partnership also catalyzed the Chinese central government to provide national bonds for cement sector projects that utilize waste and other by-products, reduce energy consumption, and promote environmental protection.

Future Directions in Cleaning up the Cement Sector

Retrofitting cement kilns in China contributes to improving energy efficiency as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic pollutants.[17] With government implementation of monitoring policies (such as the Industrial Development Policies on Cement) and various development policies, opportunities exist within Chinese cement industry to improve energy efficiency while maintaining or enhancing productivity. The central government plans on “backward capacities elimination,” doing away with low productivity kilns, such as wet process kiln, dry process plain kilns, and shaft kilns. This procedure will play a very important role in reducing China’s CO2 emissions.[18] Moreover, China is also working closely with the Asian Development Bank to financially support its ambitious cement sector retrofit projects. Therefore, although the cement industry has played a large role in causing China to be denounced as the world’s biggest polluter, the industry abounds with opportunities for improvement.

Suzanne Giannini-Spohn, Giannini-Spohn.Suzanne@epamail.epa.gov, is Program Manager for Industrial Eco-Efficiency in the Office of International Affairs at the US Environmental Protection Agency and a well-respected expert on the cement industry of China. Jung-Myung Cho, jungmyung.cho@gmail.com, was an intern in the same agency during summer 2007.

References

[1] China Cement Working Team for Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, April 18, 2007. Measures on CO2 Emission Reduction for China Cement Industry.

[2] National Bureau of Statistics of China, July 23, 2007. Value-Added of Industry Expanded in the First Half Year. http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/newsandcomingevents/t20070723_402419512.htm

[3] Lynn Price; Christina Galitsky. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory March 2006. Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns.

[4] Mason H. Soule, Jeffrey S. Logan, and Todd A. Stewart. World Business Council for Sustainable Development, March 2002. Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities in China’s Cement Industry.

[5] Lynn Price; Christina Galitsky. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory March 2006. Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns.

[6] Li, Y.Q., (unpublished report), China Cement Association, 2001. The Present Situation and Future Development of Chinese Cement Industry. Cited in “Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities in China’s Cement Industry,” by Mason H. Soule, Jeffrey S. Logan, and Todd A. Stewart. World Business Council for Sustainable Development, March 2002.

[7] Although the use of coal has tended to decrease over the last ten years, coal consumption for shaft kilns has had almost no change indicating that the use of these kilns has peaked.

[8] Cui, 2006a; Cui, 2005; ITIBMIC, 2004; Soule, et al., 2002. (cited in unpublished report, “Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns”, by Lynn Price and Christina Galitsky, March 2006).

[9] Mason H. Soule, Jeffrey S. Logan, and Todd A. Stewart. World Business Council for Sustainable Development, March 2002. Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities in China’s Cement Industry.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lynn Price; Christina Galitsky. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory March 2006. Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns.

[12] Ye Wu, Shuxiao Wang, David G. Streets, et al. American Chemical Society, 2006. Trends in Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in China from 1995 to 2003.

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Lynn Price; Christina Galitsky. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory March 2006. Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns.

[15] The 8 sectors of the APP are aluminum, buildings and appliances, cement, cleaner use of fossil energy, coal mining, power generation and transmission, renewable energy and distributed generation, and steel.

[16] Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. http://www.asiapacificpartnership.org/CementTF.htm

[17] Lynn Price; Christina Galitsky. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory March 2006. Opportunities for Improving Energy and Environmental Performance of China’s Cement Kilns.

[18] China Cement Working Team for Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, April 18, 2007. Measures on CO2 Emission Reduction for China Cement Industry.

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Title: Errors understate mercury emissions

A faulty formula: the Eastern Oregon kiln used for tests leads the DEQ to talk of possible limits on the output
By: Michale Milstein
Publication: The Oregonian [MAC: Mines and Communities]
Posted: 4th August 2006

An Eastern Oregon cement plant that releases more toxic mercury into the air than any other source in the state actually emits far more mercury than it had reported to authorities.

The new figures released Thursday make the Ash Grove Cement plant in Durkee the third largest source of airborne mercury in the nation in 2004, the last year with national statistics available. The only larger sources were a California cement plant and a Nevada gold mine.

Coal-fired plants are the nationwide target of new regulations to control mercury, which collects in the food chain and puts babies at risk of neurological damage and learning disabilities.

But the Durkee plant in 2004 vented into the air more than a ton of mercury, hundreds of pounds more than the nation's largest coal-burning power plant, according to federal figures.

No mercury limits apply to cement plants because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded no reasonably priced controls are available.

The Durkee plant's new figures surprised air-quality officials. They said it suggests cement kilns -- where mercury emerges from limestone heated to make cement -- are a much larger source of the toxic compound than anyone had recognized.

"We're seeing a pervasive underreporting throughout the country of mercury from cement kilns," said Bill Becker, director of a nationwide alliance of state and local air-quality regulators.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality re-examined the Durkee cement plant's releases after a June article in The Oregonian identified it as a much larger source of mercury than Oregon's only coal-fired power plant. DEQ officials found that Ash Grove used incorrect figures when calculating the mercury released by its plant. The actual amount is roughly two to three times higher, depending on the year.

That puts its recent emissions at about 10 times those of Portland General Electric's coal-fired power plant near Boardman, the subject of a new state mercury-control rule.

Within the next month, DEQ officials will order Ash Grove to conduct more intensive tests of its emissions, said Andrew Ginsburg, administrator of DEQ's air-quality division. The DEQ then will consider whether mercury controls are warranted and would be cost effective.

Origin of errors

The discrepancy in the plant's reported mercury releases arose because a Seattle company that performed testing at the plant in 2001 gave Ash Grove incorrect figures. DEQ officials caught the problem at the time, and the Seattle company -- Valid Results Inc. -- sent a corrected report to DEQ.

But the testing company never sent the new figures to Ash Grove. So Ash Grove used the earlier incorrect figures to calculate the plant's emissions and submit them to a federal database available to the public. That is not a violation because the company used the best information it had available at the time, said Christina Colt of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle.

Federal laws do not require Ash Grove to correct the faulty numbers. But company officials said they opted to do so because of the national interest in mercury emissions.

Trace amounts of mercury in limestone quarried at the Durkee plant are responsible for almost 99 percent of the mercury released, Ash Grove said.

The rest comes from coal burned to heat the cement kiln.

Limited testing The company said its calculations of mercury emissions are based on limited testing from five years ago, rather than continued monitoring of what comes from the roughly 25-year-old plant.

Mercury in the air typically does not pose a risk to people who breathe it. It poses the widest risk when it washes into rivers and streams, and collects in fish in a more highly toxic form.

Most people are exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. At least one in 12 babies -- and possibly more -- born in the United States is at risk of developmental disorders because of mercury exposure, research shows.

Studies suggest that much of the mercury from cement kilns emerge as vapor that drifts far away, said Bruce Hope, a DEQ environmental toxicologist. However, it's impossible to say clearly how much risk the cement plant's emissions pose to residents in Durkee or Eastern Oregon, he said. It depends on forms of mercury emitted, weather patterns and other factors.

"Not all mercury is created equal," he said. "In theory you could live next door to a smokestack and be fine, and live 10 miles away and not be fine. It just depends on the situation."

Greater DEQ focus

But he said the DEQ now is focusing much greater attention on the cement plant to better gauge the human risk.

A coalition of environmental groups said the DEQ should immediately begin testing local children and other residents for mercury exposure, and start checking mercury levels in nearby soils, streams and air. The testing is part of DEQ's legal obligations, said the groups: Columbia Riverkeeper, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Oregon Public Interest Research Group.

The EPA also is considering new national rules to control mercury from cement plants and last month sought more details on their emissions, said John Millett, a spokesman. He said the EPA will work with states to consider details such as the Durkee plant's releases.

Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com

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Title: Stevens Creek Reservoir lacks multilingual signs on toxic fish

by: HUGH BIGGAR
Published: Sunneyvale Sun
Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

There is a catch to fishing at Stevens Creek Reservoir--one that so far has only been posted in English.

The reservoir, popular with a diverse group of anglers from throughout Santa Clara Valley, is home to highly toxic fish. The reservoir's water supply is tested regularly and is considered safe to drink.

As a result of the health hazards posed by the toxicity, officials with the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department said last year the department would post warnings in English, Spanish and Vietnamese by the start of the 2005 fishing season.

A year later, the reservoir has signs only in English. A laminated notice warns people about the dangers of consuming large amounts of fish from the reservoir. (There are also other weathered signs posted in English alerting people to tick hazards and pesticide spraying.)

The laminated sign became necessary after the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Control Board released a study in 2004 showing Stevens Creek Reservoir had the highest levels of mercury in its fish of 10 reservoirs surveyed.

According to the board, largemouth bass in Stevens Creek Reservoir had levels of mercury five times the state's health standard. Reservoir fish also had among the highest levels of other contaminants found in such fish as carp and bottom-feeding catfish. Those fish were found to have high levels of polycholrinated biphenals or PCBs--an industrial pollutant banned in 1977.

In addition to PCBs, the mercury is believed to come from the nearby watershed, distant power plants and possibly the Hanson Permanente Cement plant in the Cupertino hills. The contaminants accumulate in fish over decades of exposure, experts say.

For those not practicing catch and release, health risks can occur for people who regularly consume large amounts of fish from the reservoir.  Women of childbearing age and children under the age of 16 are considered especially vulnerable.

"The mercury can cause cancer," said Tamara Clark-Shear, a spokeswoman for the parks and recreation department.

Clark-Shear said the multi-lingual signs are on their way, something she also told the Courier in March 2005.

"We are working on the language with the Public Health Service right now," she said. "The hold-up is in translation; we are trying to get the hazards down to one or two sentences."

In the meantime, Clark-Shear said rangers periodically hand out fliers to people fishing.

On a recent weekday busy afternoon, one man who gave his name as Don said he had not received a flier but was not worried about hazards.

"The fishing is too slow for me to worry [about the mercury]," he said, holding up his index finger to indicate the one fish he had caught.

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Title: Reservoir's water is fine, but the fish are polluted

By Hugh Biggar
Publication: Cupertino Courier
Posted: November 3, 2004

A recent scientific study revealed that there is something fishy in the waters of Cupertino's Stevens Creek Reservoir. A three-year study by the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Board determined the reservoir had the highest level of mercury in its fish out of the 10 local reservoirs surveyed.

Will Bruhns, spokesman for the Water Quality Control Board, said Stevens Creek fish also had among the highest levels of other contaminants found in fish.

Carp and channel creek catfish in Stevens Creek for example, were found to have high levels of PCBs—an industrial pollutant banned in 1977. Largemouth bass in Stevens Creek had levels of mercury five times the state's health standard.

Silicon Valley Water Control District spokesman Mike Di Marco said the pollutants come from a range of sources and had accumulated in the fish through decades of exposure.

Mercury is found naturally in the soil in the Stevens Creek watershed, which feeds the reservoir. It also can be found in air pollution drifting in from distant power plants—some from as far away as coal-burning plants in China—and in the wastes of old mines.  [Lehigh (Hanson) Southwest Cement Plane just 1.5 miles away and in operation since 1939, the most obvious source of mercury, is not mentioned in this article - best kept secret for decades]

"There is evidence of mining 100 years ago in the Stevens Creek area," said Di Marco. Such mining—similar to that done in the Almaden mines to the south—occurred because of the mercury found naturally in the area's geological landscape.

The other pollutants are the residue of old industrial and farming practices. PCBs, for example, were commonly used in pesticides from the 1920s to the 1970s. These toxins were then washed into the reservoir by rainwater and then entered the food chain, including the reservoir's fish.

At the top of that food chain are the people who now catch and eat the fish.

The question now becomes what to do about it. According to Bruhns, health risks occur through continuous, longterm exposure from eating such polluted fish.

For now, public health and environmental officials have issued a health advisory urging residents to be careful about what they eat. Women of childbearing age and children under the age of 18 are advised to not eat the fish from the reservoir or to sharply reduce their intake.

Bruhns said the health advisories are part of an ongoing investigation by the Water Quality Control Board in partnership with Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Since the pollutants come from disparate sources, he said there was not one place to point the blame. As a result, a "quick fix" cleanup is not possible. [Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant?]

However, some pollutants such as the PCBs will disappear over time, since they are no longer used.

In the meantime, the reservoir water is tested regularly and is still safe to drink. And lest residents forget, warning signs will be posted in English, Spanish and Vietnamese by the start of the fishing season in early 2005, reminding reservoir visitors to be careful about what they fish for—and what they catch. 

For information about the health risks at Stevens Creek, and for information about the type and amount of fish to eat, visit http://www.oehha.ca.gov/fish/so_cal/bayareares.html.

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