EPA Proposes To Slash Mercury Emissions From Cement Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly reduce mercury emissions from Portland cement kilns, the fourth-largest source of mercury air emissions in the U.S. The proposal would set the nation’s first limits on mercury emissions from existing Portland cement kilns and would strengthen the limits for new kilns.

The proposed standards also would set emission limits for total hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide from cement kilns of all sizes, and would reduce hydrochloric acid emissions from kilns that are large emitters.
“We can save more than a thousand lives each year, sharply reduce mercury and other toxins in our air and water, and work with industry to encourage innovations and good ideas that are already out there,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Mercury and other chemicals flowing into these communities are health hazards for children, pregnant mothers, local residents and workers – people who deserve protection.”

Mercury in the air eventually deposits into water, where it changes into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish. Americans are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. Because the developing fetus is the most sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury, women of childbearing age and children are regarded as the population of greatest concern.

The majority of the toxic emissions at cement kilns come from the burning of fuels and heating of raw materials. When fully implemented in 2013, EPA estimates that this rule would reduce annual emissions by at least:

  • Mercury – 11,600 pounds, a reduction of 81 percent
  • Total hydrocarbons – 11,700 tons, or 75 percent
  • Particulate matter – 10,500 tons, or 96 percent
  • Hydrochloric acid – 2,800 tons, or 94 percent
  • Sulfur dioxide – 160,000 tons, or 90 percent

EPA estimates the benefits of this proposed rule will significantly outweigh costs.

The current proposal is in response to a request to reconsider the December 2006 emissions standards for Portland cement manufacturing facilities.

EPA will take public comments on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents. EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposal if one is requested. Hearing requests must be received within 15 days of publication in the Federal Register, which is April 21, 2009.

PCA Responds…
On Monday, April 21, 2009, the
Portland Cement Association (PCA), which represents cement companies in the United States and Canada and conducts market development, engineering, research, education and public affairs programs, released a preliminary statement regarding the EPA proposal. Wednesday, it released the following statement regarding the EPA’s proposed changes to the Portland cement National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).

The statement below is attributable to Andy O’Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association, located in Skokie, IL.

“Following a review of the proposed modifications to the Portland cement National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), released on April 21, 2009, PCA considers the standards unachievable and believes that they rely on technology applications and effectiveness assumptions not experienced at cement plants. PCA fears that plants may not be able to achieve the standards even after having made significant investments in emission control technologies.

“Accordingly, PCA is troubled that EPA has failed to consider proposed alternative approaches allowed by the Clean Air Act (CAA) that would achieve the EPA’s environmental objectives while ensuring the preservation of the U.S. cement industry. Particularly in light of the current economy, these modifications not only jeopardize the viability of the U.S. cement industry, but also the jobs and communities reliant on cement manufacturing. While PCA continues to work with the EPA on this initiative, moving forward, the industry will be focused on pursuing more rational regulatory approaches.

“The proposed standards will create an inadequate domestic supply of one of the fundamental construction components of our growing infrastructure. Economic research data reports that by 2020 the nation will need to produce 30 percent more cement to meet anticipated demand created by economic recovery and population gains. The proposed standards will make it prohibitive for plants to make the modernization investments necessary to meet this demand and, as even the EPA acknowledges, will lead to forced closure of domestic plants that will create job losses and severe hardship in cities throughout the country.

“In 2008, 12 percent of our nation’s cement needs were met with imports. The reduction of domestic cement production resulting from these standards will cause the nation to become even more dependent on cement imports – a projected increase of more than 35 percent by 2020.

“If domestic manufacturing is displaced by cement manufactured in other countries, the net result could be no reduction in global emissions. Instead, our nation’s cement may come from countries that have limited environmental standards.

“In sum, PCA believes that the proposed changes will ensure neither global environmental protection nor keep domestic cement plants competitive in a global market place. Employing the greater flexibility allowed under the Clean Air Act would result in regulatory approaches that will achieve the desired environmental objectives while ensuring the viability of the domestic production of the cement necessary for constructing and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

“For more than a decade, PCA has supported the rising demand for Portland cement through environmentally and socially responsible business practices. PCA and its member companies are continually working to identify innovative ways to improve plant operations and implement state-of-the-art technologies to minimize emissions, promote a safe workplace, improve energy efficiency and conserve natural resources while cost-effectively producing a high-quality product.”

U.S. construction used 110,045,942.79 U.S. tons of cement in 2008. The consumption level was down from preceding years and according to PCA’s forecast, it will be 2012 before we are again at that level. Typically, the construction industry looks to PCA for construction forecast data because cement is a construction basic across all markets, pretty much like the flour in bread or cake baking. Portland represents more than 90 percent of the cement used in the U.S.

Cement is a critical ingredient in our construction process. Can we afford to jeopardize our economic recovery by enacting restriction
s that will increase costs or decrease production that will ultimately result in increased costs? I don’t think we should lower standards or regulations, but I do think we need to listen to the industry and its recommendations.

Protecting the environment is great, and going green should be one of our common objectives. But, we need to be certain that we don’t get regulated into a protracted recession that gets worse before it gets better. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is starting to work in some areas of the country. For it to fulfill its intended purpose, it needs to work everywhere.

Greg Sitek

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