California Heavy Metal

by jim on February 8, 2012

In an excellent follow-up to its “Poisoned Places” series, the Center for Investigative Reporting focuses on a Lehigh cement plant in Tehachapi California that has seenits Mercury emissions skyrocket from just over 100 pounds a year to 872 pounds in 2010 – the most of any cement plant in the Golden Gate state and the second-highest among all cement plants in the United States. For comparison, all three Midlothian cement plants just south of Dallas reported a total of 86 pounds of Mercury released into the air in 2010, 50 pounds of which comes from Ash Grove’s ancient wet kilns. Relatively speaking, it looks like we’re a little better off.  Except the Ameristeel Steel Mill (formally Chaparral Steel) right across the street from TXI’s cement plant released 606 pounds of Mercury in 2010. That’s s lot. It’s also a warning sign that could eventually affect TXI’s numbers. The kiln has received a new “permit amendment” nt subject to any public participation to burn Auto Shredder Residue (ASR) from Ameristeel – basically all the non-steel parts of a car after they’ve been through an industrial blender. This waste could have a lot of Mercury (from switches in older cars) in it as indicated by the Steel mill’s emissions of the poison. When TXI burns it, that Mercury will be coming out of its own smokestack. New EPA cement plant emission standards being implemented starting in 2013 will require controls for Mercury and other pollutants at all US kilns and they’re causing a once-in-a-lifetime modernization of an industry that still relies on a lot of technology from the last century that was never updated. Jane Williams, California’s #1 citizen Kilnhead and the folks in Chanute, Kansas that Downwinders has tried to help get a shout-out in the piece, as does Jim Pew with the EarthJustice legal team, who’ve been indispensable in bringing the industry into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.

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