Although it was first published last July, news of a new Spanish epidemiological study of residents living in proximity to cement plants has just now reached us.
Done by the the same researchers responsible for a 2012 study that found statistically significant increases in all cancers around waste incineration and auto scrap metal operation, this more recent report focuses just on cement, lime and plaster plants.
According to the researchers, a statistically signifiant increase in all cancer mortality was detected in the vicinity of these installations as a whole, but principally, in the vicinity of cement installations. Specifically, tumors of the colon–rectum in both sexes and of the pleura peritoneum, gallbladder, bladder and stomach in men were noticably higher. In a summary of the results, the authors state they believe residents have "an excess risk of dying from cancer, especially in colon–rectum, in towns near these industries."
Because they take such a long time and so much effort, there's a dearth of epidemiological studies focused entirely on cancer risks among those living in proximity to cement plants, although a 2004 Italian study found a significantly greater risk of lung cancer among people living near a cement factory (whereas the results of another Italian study confirmed significant excesses for cancers like the nervous system, leukemia, mesothelioma and peritoneum in a region with the presence of various industries including cement factories.
In explaining the higher incidence of gut cancers among both men and women, the study hypothesizes about the possible ways local residents are exposed to carcinogens:
In our study, one aspect to be borne in mind is that colorectal
cancer is the only tumor with statistically significant excess risks
in men and women, which might be indicative of a pathway of
environmental exposure. In this case, two possible routes of exposure
to the pollution released by these installations are considered:
direct exposure to pollutants released to air; and indirect exposure,
both to pollutants and liquid effluents which are released to water
and can then pass into the soil and aquifers, and pollutants which
are released to air and then settle on plants. In such cases, the toxins
may pass into the trophic chain, affecting the population.
Some authors have already shown associations between colorectal cancer and proximity to industrial pollution sources as metal industries (Garcia-Perez et al., 2010), mining (Fernandez-Navarro et al.,2012), food and beverage sector (Lopez-Abente et al., 2012) andchemical plants (Wilkinson et al., 1997). As regards cement plants,
a Brazilian study found a significant elevation on colorectal cancer
mortality in an industrialized area with cement industries came
into operation in the 1960s, among other facilities (Medrado-
Faria et al., 2001), and a Korean occupational study suggested a
potential association between exposure in the cement industry
and an increased risk of rectal cancer (Koh et al., 2013).
One thing a lot of these overseas studies and the Midlothian area have in common is a concentration of heavy industry. There's usually more than one facility and the region is considered an industrial corridor. That's certainly true of Midlothian, where besides hosting three large cement plants, the town is also home to a huge secondary steel mill, a power plant, and now an LNG plant. These industries combine to present a multitude of possible synergestic combinations of toxins to anyone living adjacent to, or downwind of them. "Toxic soup" is a term often used to describe the result.
This is also why the law lags behind the science in setting standards for cause and effect. When it's the cascade of chemicals from various facilities assaulting you, you're rarely going to be able to link a particular disease or illness with a specific plant. And yet the harm is happening all the same. This is why institutionalizing the "Precautionary Principle" into public policy is so important. It's much easier to prevent a chemical exposure than to track all of its ill effects after it's already doing damage.
TCEQ Public Hearing on the new DFW Anti-Smog Plan
Thursday, January 15th 6:30 pm
Arlington City Hall, 101 W. Abram
Over the last two decades, we've seen some pretty lame DFW clean air plans produced by the state, but the newest one, scheduled for a public hearing a week from now, may be the most pathetic of the bunch.
From a philosophical perspective, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality stopped pretending to care about smog in DFW once Rick Perry decided to run for president around 2010 or so. Computer modeling was scaled back, staff was slashed, and the employees that were left had to be ideologically aligned with Perry's demand that no new controls on industry (i.e potential or existing campaign contributors) was preferable to six or seven million people continuing to breathe unsafe and illegal air.
TCEQ's 2011 anti-smog plan reflected that administrative nonchalance by concluding – in the the middle of the Great Recession – that consumers buying new cars would single-handedly deliver the lowest smog levels in decades. It did not. It went down in history as the first clean air plan for the area to ever result in higher ozone levels. The first, but maybe not the last.
This time around, it's not the cars themselves playing the role of atmospheric savior for TCEQ, but the fuel they'll run on. Beginning in 2017, the federal government is scheduled to introduce a new, low-sulfur gasoline that is predicted to bring down smog by quite a bit in most urban areas. Quite a bit, but not enough to reach the ozone standard of 75 ppb that's necessary to comply with the Clean Air Act by 2018. It's the gap between this official prediction and the standard where the state is doing a lot of hemming and hawing.
TCEQ staffers really did tell a summertime audience in Arlington that that estimated 2018 gap of between 1 and 2 ppb was "close enough" to count as a success. Now, you might give them the benefit of the doubt, but remember this is an agency that has never, ever been correct is its estimation of future ozone levels. After five attempts over the last two decades, TCEQ has never reached an ozone standard in DFW by the official deadline. Precedent says this plan won't even get "close enough."
Plus, we know getting "close" to 75 ppb isn't protecting public health in DFW. Even as this clean air plan is being proposed by Austin, the EPA is moving to lower the national ozone standard to somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb (There's a hearing on that at Arlington City Hall on January 29th). That new EPA ozone standard is due to be adopted by the end of this year. So this entire state plan is obsolete from a medical perspective. Instead of aiming for a level of ozone pollution closer to 70 ppb as soon as possible, it's not even getting down to a flat 75 ppb at all DFW monitors by 2018. It wil take an entirely new plan, and pulling TCEQ teeth, to do that much later. In other words, millions of people will have to wait as much as a five to seven years longer to get levels of air quality we know we need now in 2015.
What are the major flaws this time?
1. TCEQ is Using 2006 in 2014 to Predict 2018.
The EPA recommends that states use an "episode" of bad air days from the last three years – 2009-2013 – in trying to estimate what ozone levels will be three years from now. The more recent the data, the better the prediction.
TCEQ is ignoring that recommendation, relying on a computer model that's already nine years old. This has all kinds of ramifications on the final prediction of compliance. Instead of having more recent weather data, you have to "update" that variable. TCEQ doesn't have to compensate for the drought DFW is experiencing now or factor in a year like 2011 where the drought caused a worst case scenario for ozone formation.
TCEQ isn't using more recent data on how sensitive monitors are to Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – the major kinds of pollution that cause smog . That's important because gas production in the Barnett Shale has put a lot more VOCs in the air. But instead of getting a more accurate post-drilling boom read on what's driving smog creation, the TCEQ is relying on a picture that starts out before the boom ever started.
The further you reach back in time for a model to predict future levels of smog, the fuzzier that future gets, and the less accurate the results. TCEQ is using a model that's twice to three times older than EPA guidance recommends. What are the odds that TCEQ estimates will be correct based on this kind of methodology?
2. TCEQ is Downplaying OIl and Gas Pollution
Citizens attending the air quality meetings in Arlington over the past year have seen the TCEQ try and hide the true volume and impact of oil and gas pollution at every turn. Instead of all the industry emissions being listed under the single banner of "Oil and Gas Pollution," the Commission has tried to disperse and cloak them under a variety of categories in every public presentation.
"Other Point Sources," a classification that had never been seen before, was the place where pollution from the 647 large compressor stations in DFW could be found – if you bothered to ask. "Area Sources" was where the emissions from the thousands of other, smaller compressors could be found – again, only if you asked. "Drilling" was separate from "Production." And despite other agencies being able to tease out what kind of pollution came from the truck traffic associated with fracking within their jurisdictions, the TCEQ never bothered to estimate how much of the emissions under "Mobile Sources" was generated by the Oil and Gas industry.
The reason the TCEQ has tried so hard to hide the true volumes of oil and gas pollution is because once you add up all of these disparate sources, the industry becomes the second largest single category of smog-forming pollution in DFW, second only to on-road cars and trucks (and remember many of those trucks are fracking-related). According to TCEQ's own estimates, oil and gas facilities in North Texas produce more smog-forming VOC pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the area combined, and more smog-forming NOx pollution than the Midlothian cement plants and all the area's power plants combined.
TCEQ is loathe to admit the true size of these emissions and place them side-by-side next to other, traditional sources, lest the public understand just how huge a impact the oil and gas industry has on air quality. Austin's party line is that this pollution isn't contributing to DFW smog – that it's had no impact on local air quality. But such a claim isn't plausible. If cars are a source of smog, and cement kilns and power plants are a source of smog, how can a category of VOC and NOx pollution dwarfing those sources not also be a source of smog? Think how much less air pollution we'd have if the Barnett Shale boom of the last eight years had not taken place?
In it's last public presentation in August, the TCEQ made the impact of oil and gas pollution clear despite itself. According to the staff, oil and gas emissions were going to be decreasing in the future more than they had previously estimated. As a result, a new chart showed that certain ozone monitors, including the one in Denton, would see their levels of smog come down significantly. It was exactly the proof of a causal link between gas and smog that TCEQ had been arguing wasn't there. Only it was.
In terms of forecasting future smog pollution, TCEQ is underplaying the growth of emissions in the gas patch. Everything it's basing its 2018 predictions on is years out-of-date, leftover from its last plan.
Drilling rig pollution is extrapolated from a 2011 report that counts feet drilled instead of the actual number of rigs. TCEQ predicts a decline in drilling and production in the Barnett Shale without actually estimating what that means in terms of the number of wells or their location. It also assumes a huge drop-off in gas pollution after 2009 that hasn't been documented by any updated information. It's only on paper.
While recent declines in the price of oil and gas have certainly put a damper on a lot of drilling activity, there's still a significant amount going on. Look no further than Mansfield, where Edge is now applying for permit to build a new compressor and dozens of new wells on an old pad.
In 2011, nobody was building Liquified Natural Gas terminals up and down the Gulf Coast for an export market the way they are now. Analysts say those overseas markets could produce a "second boom" in drilling activity between now and 2018, but the TCEQ forecasts don't take that into account.
Gas production pollution numbers – emissions from compressors, dehydrators, storage tanks – are even more tenuous. Every gas industry textbook explains that as gas plays get older, the number of lift compressors increases in order to squeeze out more product. Increase the number of compressors and you increase the amount of compressor pollution. But TCEQ numbers fly in the face of that textbook wisdom and predict a decline in compressor pollution because wells in the Barnett Shale are getting older!
The best analogy for how TCEQ is estimating oil and gas pollution is its poor understanding of where those thousands of smaller compressor are and how much pollution they're actually producing. No staff member at TCEQ can tell you how many of those compressors there are in the region – they literally have no idea and no idea of how to count them in the real world. There are just too many, their locations are unknown, and they were never individually permitted.
Instead, the TCEQ takes production figures from the Railroad Commission and guesses how many of those small compressors there are, as well as their location, based on where the RRC tells it production is going on in the Shale. Then staff guesses again about the emissions being emitted by those compressors, because there's no data telling them what those emissions actually are. In the end you have a series of lowballed guestimates, stacked one atop the other, presented as fact. It's smoke and mirrors.
3. TCEQ Isn't Requiring Any New Controls on Any Major Sources of Air Pollution
Like its previous 2011 DFW air plan, which resulted in an increase in North Texas ozone levels, TCEQ's new plan requires no new controls on any major sources of air pollution, despite evidence showing that such controls in smog-forming emissions from the Midlothian cement plants, East Texas coal plants, and Barnett Shale gas facilities could cut ozone levels significantly.
Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) is already used extensively in the cement plant industry in Europe to reduce smog pollution by up to 90%. Over a half dozen different plants have used the technology since 2000. The TCEQ's own 2006 report on SCR concluded it was "commercially available." Holcim Cement has already announced it will install SCR in its Midlothian cement plant. Yet the TCEQ makes no mention of this in its plan.
That's right, a cement plant in Midlothian has decided SCR is commercially viable, but the State is looking the other way and pretending this development in its own backyard isn't even happening. TCEQ is stating in its proposed plan that SCR just isn't feasible!
In 2013, a UTA Department of Engineering study looked at what happened if you reduced Midlothian cement plant pollution by 90% between 6 am and 12 Noon on weekdays. Ozone levels went down in Denton by 2 parts per billion. That may not seem like a lot, but in smog terms it's the difference between the Denton air monitor violating the 75 ppb standard under the TCEQ plan and complying with the Clean Air Act.
In 2012 a UTA College of Nursing study found higher rates of childhood asthma in Tarrant County "in a linear configuration" with the plumes of pollution coming from the Midlothian cement plants. SCR means less pollution of all kinds: smog, dioxins and the particulate matter the Nursing College thought was causing those increased rates of childhood asthma. By delaying the requirement that all the Midlothian cement plants install SCR by 2018, the state is turning its back on a problem that Cook Children's hospital described as "an epidemic."
The same is true of SCR in the East Texas coal plants. The technology is being used in other coal plants around the world and in the US to reduce smog pollution. There's no reason it shouldn’t be required for the dirtiest coal plants in Texas that impact DFW air quality. After decades of being out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, DFW is one of the places the technology is needed most.
Last year the Dallas County Medical Society, led by Dr. Robert Haley, petitioned the TCEQ to either close those coal plants or install SCR on them. The doctors' petition was rejected by TCEQ Commissioners and they were told their concerns would be addressed in the DFW air plan. They aren't. Those concerns, along with the proof they presented about the impact of the plants on local air quality, are being ignored.
Electrification of gas compressors is a commonly used technology that could cut smog pollution as well, and yet the TCEQ is not requiring new performance standards that would force operators of hundreds of diesel and gas-powered compressors in North Texas to switch to electricity.
A 2012 Houston Advanced Research Center study found that pollution from a single compressor could raise local ozone levels by as much as 3 to 10 ppb as far away as ten miles. There are at least 647 large compressor stations in the western part of the DFW area. Dallas and other North Texas cities have written ordinances requiring only electric-powered compressors within their city limits based on testimony from industry that electrification was a commonly used technology in the industry. And yet, TCEQ's official position is that electrification isn't feasible.
In ignoring these types of new controls the TCEQ is violating provisions of the Clean Air Act to implement "all reasonably available control technologies and measures" to insure a speedy decrease in ozone levels. Each of these technologies is on the market, being used in their respective industries, and readily available. Studies have shown that each of these technologies could cut ozone levels in DFW significantly, but the TCEQ is refusing to implement them. In doing so, many observers believe it's blatantly in violation of the law.
We don't expect TCEQ to change its position. That well has been poisoned for the foreseeable future. But we do expect a higher standard of enforcement from the Obama Administration EPA. That's why we're asking you to show-up at the public hearing and oppose this dreadful state air plan a week from now in Arlington. We need to demonstrate to the federal government that citizens are concerned about getting cleaner air now, not in the next plan or the one after that. Now. We need to put pressure on the EPA to reject this TCEQ plan, to either send it back to the drawing board or substitute one of its own. Without you showing up, that pressure isn't there.
Between now and Thursday – and all the way through January 30th, you can send prepared comments opposing the TCEQ plan to Austin and the EPA Regional Administrator with a simple click here – and add your own comments as well.
As a reward for coming over and venting your frustration, we'd like you to stay and party with us at the official "retirement party" of State Representative Lon Burnam, beginning at 7:30 pm just four blocks down the street. It's a roasting and toasting of the best friend environmentalists ever had in the Texas Legislature, as well as a fundraiser for Downwinders to continue our work to defend your air. JUST CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS.
Next Thursday you can support clean air two ways in one evening. Help us beat back a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad air plan, and then come celebrate the wonderful, righteous, very good work of a dedicated public servant. See you there.
On Wednesday, a national coalition of environmental and community groups that included Downwinders at Risk asked a federal court to stay a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken and delay Clean Air Act protection against toxic pollution from cement plants.
By the agency’s own calculations, the delay will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 avoidable deaths and will allow cement plants to release an additional 32,000 pounds of mercury into the environment.
The complete list of groups seeking relief include Cape Fear River Watch, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Downwinders at Risk, Friends of Hudson, Huron Environmental Activist League, Montanans Against Toxic Burning, PenderWatch & Conservancy, and the Sierra Club, all of which have members who live and work in close proximity to cement plants and have suffered from cement plants’ excessive pollution for many years. Earthjustice filed the stay motion on their behalf in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A copy of the groups’ motion can be found here: Cement Motion to Stay Rule
Cement plants are among the nation’s worst polluters, emitting vast quantities of particulate matter, mercury, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants.
“As if gutting and delaying the rule were not bad enough, EPA has essentially created a compliance shield for the industry, making it impossible for citizens to hold facilities accountable for their toxic emissions. These changes in the cement rule are irresponsible and reckless,” said Jennifer Swearingen, of Montanans Against Toxic Burning.
“Los Angeles is ringed by cement plants, and three of them operate near my home in Rosamond,” said Jane Williams, of Sierra Club and Desert Citizens Against Pollution. “The pollution from these plants hurts the people in this community and robs us of the outdoor lifestyle we came here to enjoy. We can’t wait two more years to get relief from these plants’ pollution. I don’t want anyone in these communities to be among the people this pollution is going to sicken and kill.”
Our own Midlothian is the cement capital of the United States and so Downwinders at Risk' Director Jim Schermbeck had something to say about the move. “The EPA seems to have learned nothing from having cement plants exploited as inadequate hazardous waste incinerators. As cement plants are once again becoming the nation’s Dispos-All, and new wastes are generating new emissions, the Agency is weakening air pollution controls and making it easier for cement kilns to poison their neighbors. It was wrong to turn kiln into incinerators in the 1980s and it’s wrong to try and do so again in the 21st century – especially accompanied by a roll back in regulations."
In North Carolina groups are fighting a massive proposed cement plant. “A gigantic foreign cement company wants to build one of the world’s biggest plants here,” said Allie Sheffield, of PenderWatch and Conservancy, a group that works to protect the coastal ecosystem in Pender County, North Carolina. “If this plant is built, EPA’s new rule will let it emit twice as much lead, arsenic, and particulate matter into our air and waters. At this point, I have to ask – why do they call it the Environmental Protection Agency?”
William Freese, of Huron Environmental Activist League, lives near what the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory lists as the dirtiest cement plant in North America for point source pollution. “This makes one wonder how the EPA, in violation of U.S. Court of Appeals’ order, can allow this company to do keep polluting for two more years. By the time they get around to finally doing what’s right, they won’t have any environment to protect,” Freese said.
“Federal law required EPA to put limits on this pollution more than a decade ago,” Earthjustice attorney James Pew said. “But under one administration after another, the agency has refused to put limits in place. Real people suffer as a result of EPA’s scofflaw behavior, and now they are going to court to say ‘enough is enough.’”
The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act required EPA to limit cement plant’s emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as mercury. In 2000, a federal court had to order EPA to set these standards after the agency refused to do so.
In 2010, in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of community groups living in the shadow of cement plants, EPA finally set the standards that the Clean Air Act had required it to set more than a decade before. These standards would have significantly reduced cement plants’ emissions of soot, mercury, lead, benzene and other toxic pollutants by September of this year.
Rather than acting to clean up their pollution, cement companies attacked EPA’s new rule in court and in Congress. The attacks failed. The court denied their request to vacate or delay the standards, and legislative efforts to do the same failed to gain support on the Hill.
In 2013, however, the EPA voluntarily gave the cement industry the very relief it had failed to get in court or in Congress. It delayed emission reductions that were already more than a decade overdue for another two years, until 2015. Additionally, EPA weakened particulate matter standards and eliminated requirements that would have required cement plants to monitor and report their emissions to the public.
Citizens are down but not out. And we will never rest until we see cement plants regulated the way they should be when they burn so many different types of waste. We can fight this fight because of your support over the years. Please help us keep fighting by putting a bill in the tip jar. We need your help to raise our 2013 budget to keep our staff in the field working for your lungs. Thanks.
We missed this the first time around, so we're glad that "Living on Earth" caught it again. A group of scientists, including marine biologist Chelsea Rochman, recently signed an article in the magazine Nature that called for classifying plastic as a hazardous waste.
What's the rationale? It turns out to be pretty solid and based on current regulations. As Rochman described it,
Waste is basically separated into two categories, those that are non-hazardous like grass clippings, and those that are considered a hazard, which are often based upon this long list of priority pollutants, or substances that the government deems are hazardous to organisms. And we found that plastics are associated with 78 percent of these priority pollutants listed by the US EPA and 61 percent listed by the European Union, either as a chemical ingredient of the plastic itself or when the plastic ends up in the aquatic environment; they absorb these contaminants from the water. And so from that perspective we thought maybe plastic as a waste product should also be considered as a hazardous substance.
Rochman cites styrene in Styrofoam as an example of a well-known pollutant that's incorproated into plastic. Another is vinyl chloride that's used to make PVC.
Plastics' threat to marine life has been well-documented, but it's also a threat to those living downwind of places that burn plastic wastes – like an increasing number of cement plants, including TXI's huge Midlothian Kiln #5. Besides being assaulted by the leftovers of the ingredients in the original plastic, downwind neighbors are also subjected to entirely new pollutants that are made ONLY when plastics are burned. The most notorious of these is Dioxin, one of the most potent poisons ever tested. Dioxin is what made Agent Orange so toxic to Vietnamese and veterans alike. It's why Times Beach Missouri is a Superfund Site. And it's what's released every time plastics are burned.
Incineration of plastics is dramatically increasing despite producing this kind of pollution. Classifying this waste as "hazardous" might be the only way to limit their use as "fuel" in cement kilns that weren't built to be garbage incinerators.
Two notoriously polluting industries find solace in each other's ability to scratch each other's dirty, irritating itches.
Cement plants are always looking for ways to get paid to burn other people's garbage. It takes a lot of energy to fire a 20-foot flame at 2000 degrees 24/7 in order to cook rock. It also takes a lot of "additives". That's why cement plants started burning other companies' hazardous wastes in the 70's and 80's. Because of a loophole in federal law, 50-year old cement plants with no modern pollution controls were allowed to charge for burning highly toxic wastes from refineries and chemical plants that were otherwise supposed to be going to fully-regulated hazardous waste disposal sites.
But those official sites cost more to use, and the cement plants cost so little. That's right, cement plants charged these polluters to dispose of their wastes, but not more than the incinerators or landfills with all the bells and whistles of "regulation." In this way, cement plant operators double dip – they don't have to shell out as much for fuel they'd have to buy, and they get paid a profit to be a Dispos-All for industry. And by the way, industry calls this "recycling."
Because of the persistence of Downwinders at Risk and other citizens' groups, this loophole has been slowly but surely closing, meaning less and less hazardous waste is being burned in US cement kilns. From a peak of almost 30 kilns burning toxics in the in the 1990's, we're now down to less than a dozen. But to take the place of this lucrative lost market, cement plants across the country are turning to "non-hazardous" waste to burn. Tires, but also municipal garbage, plastic wastes, used oils, shingles, car parts and other kinds of wastes. TXI's new permit allows the burning of a dozen different kinds of industrial wastes at its huge kiln in Midlothian.
While these wastes are classified as "non-hazardous," when they come in the front gate of a kiln, it turns out they can release a lot of toxic pollution when they're incinerated. Metals like lead and cadmium and arsenic that don't burn (consult your High School physics textbook) are present. So are PCB's that have Dioxin. But burning plastic or chlorinated wastes means you can generate Dioxins even without having them present in the wastes to begin with. There's also Mercury in some of the wastes from cars that TXI and other kilns wants to burn.
So you have the release of exactly the same kinds toxic pollution you were concerned about with the burning of officially-classified hazardous wastes. But now, it's taking place "legally," – or at least it is until the law hasn't catches-up with the consequences of this kind of low-rent disposal operation. Have a waste you want to get rid of? Send it to your local neighborhood cement plant. They'll burn anything.
Enter the Natural Gas industry. They've been getting a lot of bad PR lately about their own waste problems. They have billions of gallons of what they like to call "fracking fluid," and what the rest of us would call "hazardous wastes" that's so toxic it must be disposed of in a deep underground injection well after only being used once, isolated from the rest of the earth's environment forever. But because of some well-placed loopholes, this "fracking fluid" is not considered "official" hazardous waste under federal rules. It will just unofficially injure you with its toxins.
As it turns out, injecting billions of gallons of "non-hazardous" toxic liquid under extremely high pressure near deep underground faults is a sure way to generate earthquakes. And that's what's been happening. Not only in North Texas, but other places where there are lots of injection wells. There was another small one last night in Midlothian, right down the highway from a large deep injection well near Venus. Along with the fact that most fracking fluid cannot be or is not "recycled" now and can only be used once before disposal, the fracking fluid generated by the gas industry has turned into an embarrassing sore point.
If only there was some other way the gas industry could dispose of their drilling wastes. If only they could appear to be more environmentally-friendly and save money at the same time……
And there you have the genesis of a happy marriage made in polluter heaven. I have a facility that needs stuff to burn and mix, and I'm not that particular about what the stuff has in it. You have lots of stuff that needs to be burned, er, "recycled" and you spend less when you send it to a facility like mine not specifically built to do that job. Everybody wins!
"The use of drilling wastes and muds is most preferable in cement kilns, as a cement kiln can be an attractive, less expensive alternative to a rotary kiln. In cement kilns, drilling wastes with oily components can be used in a fuel-blending program to substitute for fuel that would otherwise be needed to fire the kiln.
Cement kiln temperatures (1,400 to 1,500 degrees C) and residence times are sufficient to achieve thermal destruction of organics. Cement kilns may also have pollution control devices to minimize emissions. The ash resulting from waste combustion becomes incorporated into the cement matrix, providing aluminum, silica, clay, and other minerals typically added in the cement raw material feed stream.
Recent studies have shown that it is feasible to use such drilling waste as substitute fuel in a cement plant. The drilling mud can be processed by a centrifuge to separate remaining water, compressed by a screw into a solid pump and conveyed.
The cement companies can contribute to sustainability also by improving their own internal practices such as improving energy efficiency and implementing recycling programs. Businesses can show commitments to sustainability through voluntary adopting the concepts of social and environmental responsibilities, implementing cleaner production practices, and accepting extended responsibilities for their products."
For veterans of The Cement Wars of the 1990's this rhetoric is certainly recycled. Cement Plants are Long, Hot and Good for America! Cement plants are the best disposal devices ever. They just make everything go "poof." That's why they were built specifically to dispose of wastes of all kinds – oh wait. nope. They were built to make cement. But how great is it that they can make an entire sideline business out of dealing with, and spewing toxic chemicals into the environment?
Even though the specific article deals with the Middle East, is there any question that a cement plant in Texas or Pennsylvania, or Ohio won't try to make the case for accepting drilling wastes, if they haven't already? The permit modification TXI received to burn plastics and car wastes from the State of Texas required no public notice at all. Citizens only found out after the fact. There are only about a dozen players left in the international cement market. If they're discussing this in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, chances are they're talking about it in Zurich, Heidelberg, and Midlothian too.
Developments like this are why its important to tell the EPA it's making a big mistake to delay and change its cement plant toxic emission rules. The industry's "inputs" are changing rapidly. Two years is too long. We need the protection of those new rules now. If you haven't already clicked and sent EPA an e-mail saying you oppose this delay, the "official" comment period is over, but it couldn't hurt for the folks in DC to see your "unofficial" opposition.
It's also a lesson in why "everything is connected." Don't live near a gas well? If you live in DFW, chances are you live downwind of a kiln that could be burning the wastes of gas wells.
A national research team that includes personnel from The National Cancer Institute, Colorado Sate University, the University of Washington, and the Mayo Clinic has concluded that homes within one to three miles of cement plants contain house dust that contains 2 to 9 times more Dioxins than homes not located near kilns.
Dioxins are among the most toxic substances ever tested by EPA. Dioxin is the poison in Agent Orange. It's what made both Love Canal in New York, and Times Beach Missouri Superfund Sites. It's so toxic it's measured in grams, not pounds. It's a carcinogen and an endocrine disrupter. Like Lead and Particulate Matter, there is no known "safe" exposure level to Dioxin.
40 homes across four states were chosen from an earlier non-Hodgkin lymphoma study. Samples of dust were collected from vacuum cleaner bags and test for a variety of Dioxins (the testing for Dioxins is VERY expensive and that's one reason you don't see a lot of field tests for it). Four kinds of dioxin-emitting facilities identified by EPA were in close proximity to one or more of the sampled households – cement kilns, coal plants, sewage sludge incinerators, and medical waste incinerators. Proximity to major roadways was also considered a separate source. But "high concentrations" of Dioxins were only associated with homes near cement plants. Major roads also saw "elevated" levels, but not nearly as much as kilns.
The full study was recently published in the September edition of "Science of the Total Environment."
Midlothian currently hosts six active cement kilns. There were as many as ten up until 2008. It is the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the nation. And all of DFW is downwind of it most of the year.
As we mentioned last week, a 1999 study by Barry Commoner and his group out of Washington University in St. Louis traced Dioxins from the TXI cement plant all the way to the Arctic Circle. So don't feel safe if you think you live far enough downwind not to be affected by the Midlothian plant plumes.
For years, Midlothian residents and others have been asking the federal government for a meaningful health effects and testing protocol for determining the total load of dioxins in and around these kilns. It hasn't come. Their requests were based on published higher incidents of certain kind of birth defects in Ellis County, as well as clusters of animal health effects observed by local ranchers and breeders. And these observations started when hazardous waste burning began in the mid-1980's. EPA has stated that waste-burning kilns release more dioxin than non-waste burning ones.
So it's important to remember that the astounding high concentrations of Dioxins that were located in homes in close proximity to a a cement kiln were linked to a kiln not burning hazardous waste. Granted, we don't know what kind of "non-hazardous wastes" it might have been burning, but the results begs the question about how much higher Dioxin levels might be in a place like Chanute, Kansas where Ash Grove's kiln is still burning hazardous wastes.
And it also once again points out why we can't be complacent about the kilns in Midlothian just because they quit burning the worst of the worst toxic wastes. Even without that practice, they pose an on-going clear and present danger to the region's public health from just their "routine" emissions. Now that all of them have or want permits to burn plastics and garbage, you could reasonably expect to see an increase in Dioxins and other forms of more exotic pollution spewing out of their tall smokestacks. And you know why their so tall don't you? So that the pollution they're releasing travels further downwind.