User login

You are here

Home » Issue Areas » Lehigh and Quarrying » Newspaper Articles » 2008

Officials at Lehigh Hanson, parent company of Lehigh Cement Co. in Union Bridge, said that while their reported mercury emissions were 10 times higher in 2007 than 2006, they are waiting for the federal government to announce a standard for the pollutant in March before taking action to reduce emissions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, the Union Bridge plant released 376 pounds of mercury into the air in 2007, up from the 2006 reported amount of 34 pounds.

The 376 pounds of mercury puts Lehigh as the second-highest mercury emitter in the state. The state’s top mercury emitter is Constellation Energy’s Brandon Shores power plant in Pasadena, with 550 pounds of mercury released last year.

Maryland’s coal-burning power plants, however, are required to cut back their mercury pollution under the state’s 2006 Healthy Air Act, which calls for an 80 percent reduction by 2010 and a 90 percent reduction by 2013.

Cement kilns, on the other hand, do not have mercury emission limits, which environmental groups the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice are urging Congress to address. However, Dale Kemery, a spokesman for the EPA, confirmed Thursday that the EPA’s proposed ruling on a standard for cement kilns is expected to be released in March, with the final ruling to be announced within a year from that date.

Why mercury is 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.

Liberty Reservoir in Carroll County has been on the Maryland Department of the Environment’s list of impaired waterways since 2002 for having elevated levels of mercury in fish tissue. Loch Raven Reservoir and Prettyboy Reservoir in Baltimore County are also on the state’s list for mercury, as well as several lakes in Garrett County and on the Eastern Shore.

Union Bridge resident Judy Smith said she was surprised by the levels of mercury released at Lehigh and is recommending community members contact the state to demand action.

“This is a huge, huge hole [in regulations],” Smith said. “We can’t depend on our government to do this for us. We have to hold their feet to the fire.”

The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice believe that Lehigh could be emitting much more mercury than was reported. Using data submitted to the EPA for the Toxics Release Inventory, the report authors believed Lehigh has the capacity to emit as much as 1,539 pounds of mercury a year.

Lehigh’s reaction

Tim Matz, director of environmental affairs for Dallas-based Lehigh Hanson, said the number submitted to the EPA is based on a stack burn test, which the company performs once a year unless requested more frequently by MDE, rather than a continuous monitoring system.

Matz said the difference between the 2006 and 2007 emission amounts is most likely from the different batches of limestone used during the two stack tests. Matz said mercury often occurs in pockets in limestone, which is the primary ingredient in cement.

“As you quarry, you might hit different pockets of where it’s occurring, more or less,” Matz said Thursday. “The limestone is the main contributor, but, of course, the coal [burned to heat the kiln] has a trace amount of mercury, too.”

Matz said he has been part of a committee through the Portland Cement Association to make recommendations to the EPA on setting a standard for mercury emissions for cement kilns.

Matz said Lehigh does have a wet scrubber on its Mason City, Iowa, cement kiln that captures some mercury, but Lehigh would need to look at the specific kind of mercury released at the Union Bridge plant before knowing if a similar scrubber would be effective there.

Groups seek quicker response

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said the proposed rule expected in March was supposed to be out this September. Even after the rule comes out, it will probably be five years before it is implemented, Schaeffer said, which is too long to wait.

Schaeffer was director of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement until he resigned in 2002 after his frustration with the Bush administration’s efforts to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws, according to the group’s Web site.

Peter Pearre, vice president of the New Windsor Community Action Project, said he was upset by the information on Lehigh’s mercury emissions.

“I find it of concern that a major international corporation such as Heidelberg Cement, the parent company of the Lehigh Cement Company, has just built a ‘state of the art’ cement kiln in Union Bridge that released 376 pounds of mercury into the environment of Carroll and Frederick counties last year,” Pearre wrote in an e-mail statement Thursday.

“I find it of even greater concern that the corporation has the capabilities to prevent this dangerous mercury pollution, but will not do so until ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” he wrote.

Pearre wrote he interprets statements by the company’s corporate leaders as a lack of concern for the health and well-being of the residents of Carroll and Frederick counties.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Clean Water Action and the Waterkeeper Alliance have written MDE and Attorney General Doug Gansler asking for action by the state to force reductions on industries that are not currently regulated.

In addition to citing Lehigh, the group is concerned about NewPage Corp.’s paper mill in Allegany County, which reported releasing 373 pounds of mercury in 2007.

Reach staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer at 410-857-7874 or

Source: Carroll County Times, October 31, 2008