Cement plants release more than two-times as much toxic mercury as the EPA estimates, according to a study by two watchdog groups.
The cement industry had escaped for 10 years many of the air pollution regulations that the EPA has enacted for power plants (though a recent court decision set back efforts to control mercury at power plants). In recent months, the EPA lost a court decision and so will have to set rules reducing mercury pollution from cement plants.
Mercury is a potent toxic metal that attacks the brain, interrupting normal development, lowering IQ, causing learning disabilities and other developmental problems. People are most often exposed from eating contaminated fish, and fish are contaminated when smokestack pollution rains down and accumulates in the mud of lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Eight percent of American women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood at levels that threaten their children, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
After the EPA started measuring mercury pollution from cement kilns, its estimate for total toxic contribution nearly doubled, from under 12,000 pounds per year to 23,000 pounds. The data was publicized in an Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project report.
But the watchdogs stressed that the data was limited, and based only on the information the EPA requested and received from certain companies. Several big plants and at least one big company, Cemex, are not included in the tallies.
The cement industry is heavily consolidated and controlled by international companies that are, in many cases, based outside the United States. While the U.S. economy demands cement, the pollution is dumped domestically while the profits are exported. The 150 cement plants in the U.S. release mercury because they burn coal or other materials that contain mercury, and process limestone, which can contain mercury.
Here's a list of the 28 cement kilns that emitted more than 100 pounds of mercury in 2006. (View all 100 in the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory.
Where available, the actual or updated estimate for mercury pollution is noted. Otherwise, the numbers reflect the old data reported from cement kilns, not the new estimates by the watchdogs based on updated EPA data.
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