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.
There's a public meeting hosted by TCEQ at 7pm tonight concerning the new permit for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant. It's taking place at the Midlothian Conference Center, at 1 community Center Road, right off Hwy 287. Here's a map if you need one.
This is your only chance to ask questions and raise concerns about Holcim's new permit, or any other aspect of Holcim operations in a public forum in 2014.
Remember that Holcim's pollution contributes to higher smog levels as far north as Denton and Wise Counties. Along with TXI and Ash Grove, its plumes have been associated with higher childhood asthmarates in southeast Tarrant County.
Holcim is also still the only Midlothain cement plant still blasting for rock. The others use machinery to mine limestone, Holcim uses ammonium nitrate, the same explosives that caused the West, Texas catastrophe.
The good news is that Holcim has decided to install Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) pollution control on one of their two large cement kilns. That's what the new permit mostly is about. Although well-known for reducing smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) in the European cement industry, Holcim is using it to reduce Total Hydrocarbons – a category of pollutionthat includes toluene, benzene, and xylene.
You can read about how important a victory SCR is for all DFW breathers here. It's been a 15 year effort. Holcim's decision to install SCR should be celebrated.
But important questions remain about when the SCR unit will become operational and how reductions in airpollution like NOx will be tracked by the company.
SCR is only being installed on one of two Holcim kilns in Midlothian. The other kiln is getting a "Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer" – the equivalent of a flare on a gas well – to burn off its total Hydrocarbons.
Because they're combustion-based, RTOs increase NOx pollution. How much, and how Holcim can catch that increase before it goes up the stack is alsothe subject of the permit.
The public meeting on Monday is not a hearing. But it is the only public forum where citizens can thank Holcim for finally installing SCR, as well as express their concerns and ask questions about the permit.
We know it's a busy time of year, and it's the day before Election Day, but do your lungs a favor and attend a meeting about a permit that can affect them for good or bad.
(Midlothian) After a 14-year effort by local citizens, Holcim US Inc. is applying for a permit to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to install a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit in their Midlothian facility. It's the first application for commercial use of SCR technology in any U.S. cement kiln.
DFW-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk has been advocating the use of SCR in the three Midlothian cement plants located just south of I-20 since 2000, when a German cement kiln first operated the technology successfully.
Together, the TXI, Ash Grove, and Holcim plants represent the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the country and are a major contributor to DFW's historic smog problem.
"We need this pollution control technology in North Texas, and we're pleased to see Holcim's application," said Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck. "But we wish residents could enjoy its results sooner than Holcim intends."
The SCR unit is planned for Holcim's idle Kiln #2 while a more common Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer will be built for its operating Kiln #1. Both technologies are being installed to meet new EPA emission standards for hydrocarbon pollution from cement plants. Those standards themselves were championed by Downwinders and other citizen groups in 2009, with over 200 people showing up at an EPA hearing the the DFW Airport Hotel to support them.
The deadline for compliance with the new standards is September 2016. However, restarting of Kiln #2, and the introduction of SCR in Midlothian, is dependent on local demand for Holcim's cement, which is still recovering from weak demand during the recession. That lack of demand could delay the technology's inauguration until after 2016.
Nevertheless, according to Schermbeck, Holcim's application for a permit to install SCR makes it's more likely that all of the Midlothian cement plants, and others in EPA "non-attainment areas" for smog pollution around the country, will be adopting it sooner rather than later.
"Holcim's application sets a precedent that's hard to ignore by regulators in Austin and Washington. For the first time a US cement plant has expressed enough confidence in SCR to make it a technically and economically-viable choice for pollution control. There's no going back."
SCR is widely considered to be the most advanced form of pollution control for cement manufacturing, capable of reducing smog-forming pollution by 90% or more, along with significant reductions in Particulate Matter, metals, and Dioxins.
Although about half a dozen European cement kilns are successfully operating the technology, U.S. plants have refused to endorse it. Two EPA-sponsored pilot tests of SCR are being conducted at Indiana and Illinois cement kilns as part of court-ordered settlements. Holcim's application for its Midlothian kiln is the first time and American cement plant is voluntarily approving SCR use.
Although it's not coming in time to impact the current DFW clean air plan, due to go to public hearing in January of next year, Holcim's application will put SCR on the agenda for the next such plan.
Just two weeks ago, EPA staff recommended a new ozone, or smog, standard of between 60 and 70 parts per billion over an eight hour period versus the current limit of 75 ppb. Adoption of a stricter standard is expected to occur by late next year, meaning a plan to meet that standard will be gearing up sometime in the next three to five years. By that time, Holcim's SCR unit should have a track record that can be cited as a reason for all the Midlothian cement plants to use it.
Schermbeck noted that just last month representatives of the TCEQ told a regional air quality meeting in Arlington that SCR was neither an economical nor technically feasible pollution control option for the Midlothian cement plants. He said Holcim's application belies that claim.
A public meeting on the Holcim permit application is being scheduled for early November.
Arrival of SCR on the scene marks the latest and the most dramatic milestone in the transformation of the local cement industry since Downwinders at Risk was founded 20 years ago to stop the burning of hazardous wastes in the Midlothian kilns.
After a 14-year battle, TXI halted its hazardous waste-burning operations in 2008. Downwinders then pursued a six-year "green cement" campaign to replace all seven obsolete and dirtier wet kilns with newer "dry kiln" technology. That campaign ended in 2012 with the announcement that Ash Grove would shutter its three wet kilns and build a new dry kiln in their place. That plant is due to go on line this year.
Adoption of SCR remained a goal of the group through four different DFW clean air plans going all the way back to 2000. Schermbeck said his group made incremental progress each time, winning small and large battles that directly lead to today's news.
"Holcim's application for SCR is the latest testament to the persistence and focus of a small group of committed citizens who have pulled and pushed the U.S. cement industry into the 21st Century one step at a time."
Swiss-based Holcim Cement is requesting a permit amendment to add new piece of pollution control equipment to its Midlothian cement plant, one of three cement plants that make the city the "Cement Capitol of Texas" and the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. Good news, right? The problem is that the company is asking the state for the permit before deciding what kind of pollution control equipment to install.
That's right. Holcim is asking the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to OK a permit that will result in a "major modification" of its Midlothian plant and could produce significant amounts of new pollution before it even decides what the major modification is going to be. Anywhere else in the country this might be a bit odd, but hey, it's Texas, where Rick Perry's TCEQ has a rubber stamp standing by for anything industry requests.
Holcim's permit request is being prompted by a problem complying with new federal regulations limiting a kind of pollution called Total Hydrocarbons, or THCs. These are also sometimes referred to as "Volatile Organic Compounds." Think Benzene, and other kinds of hazardous flammable gases. In its permit application Holcim says it needs to add new controls to reduce THC to levels and come under the new federal standard. Fair enough. The company then says that it's still trying to decide between two different types of controls and will make up its mind after getting the permit and seeing how well its choice works out on one of its two separate giant kilns. That's the bogus part.
But wait, there's more! The two technologies Holcim is considering installing in Midlothian are: 1) A Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer, or RTO, which is a fancy way of saying setting them on fire and flaring them off, and, 2) A Selective Catalytic Reduction unit, or SCR, which is a tower of treated metal honeycombs that pick up pollution as the plant exhaust passes through them. RTOs are already installed on American cement plants, including TXI's huge Midlothian kiln just a few miles down Highway 67 from Holcim. On the other hand, up to now full-scale commercial SCR units have only been installed on European cement plants and in fact, the Portland Cement Association has lobbied long and hard to keep them out of the US for fear of raising the pollution control bar too high for all of the country's cement plants.
That's because SCR is more expensive to build and maintain than most cement plant control devices. But for the money, you get the Holy Grail of cement plant pollution control technology.
Most of the European cement plants that have SCR units install them to remove another type of pollution from their stacks – Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). If that sounds familiar, it's because NOx is a major smog-forming pollutant, and DFW has so much of it that the region has never been in compliance with the Clean Air Act standard for smog. And you'll never guess which facilities are the single largest sources of NOx pollution in North Texas. Or maybe you will: the Midlothian cement plants. That's why Downwinders at Risk has made it a point to campaign to require all three Midlothian cement plants – Holcim, TXI and Ash Grove – to install SCR….since all the way back in 2001, when the first European units were deemed a success at a German cement plant. SCR can remove 80 to more than 90% of all NOx coming out of a cement kiln. The 6500 tons of NOx a year that the Midlothian cement plants are permitted to release could be reduced to 650 tons with the application of SCR.
Now, as it turns out, SCR units are great not only at capturing large amounts of NOx pollution, but all kinds of other industrial pollution coming out of cement plants as well. Like THCs – up to 70% or so, but also Particulate Matter, Metals, Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Monoxide, and Dioxins. It's what's called a multi-pollutant control device because it does such a good job of eliminating a wide variety of nasty stuff from smoke stacks. This is what makes it the state-of-the-art technology for communities hosting kilns. In contrast, RTOs are single-purpose pollution devices aimed just at hydrocarbon removal and aren't designed to remove other kinds of emissions.
So even though Holcim is considering operating SCR because of its hydrocarbon problem, it would have a massive impact on the plant's air pollution across the board. And if Holcim were to set the precedent, the clock would begin ticking on bringing SCR to the other two Midlothian cement plants as well. It would only be a matter of time.
The public comment period for telling the state whether to accept or reject Holcim's permit application ends this Friday, July 11th at 5 pm. (If you're interested in jumping through the hoops to fill out the online form for official comments, you can go here and use Permit Number 8996)
Downwinders is submitting detailed comments praising Holcim for considering SCR, but urging the TCEQ to reject this permit because it's too vague and doesn't commit the company to any partciular technology, including SCR. We've also been collecting letters form local officials and stare legislators that urge Holcim to definitively choose SCR.
Now we're asking you to help us bombard both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Holcim's US headquarters in Dundee Michigan in the next 48 hours with the same message to show public support for the company to do the right thing while rejecting a placeholder permit that doesn't commit it to do that right thing.
We want a permit request from the company that says Holcim will definitely install SCR, becoming the first commercial application of this state-of-the-art technology in America.
Using our "Featured Citizen Action" link, you can send such a message to Austin and Michigan in a matter of seconds right now. All you have to do is click here and then send the e-mails. We guarantee there's no more important or easier thing you can do for clean air in North Texas this week than sending these e-mails to the TCEQ Commisisoners and Holcim Corporate leadership. Please help us get the cement plant pollution control technology DFW deserves. It will only take a matter of seconds for you to help us achieve a goal we've been working toward for 14 years. We can do this. But we need your help. Now. Thanks.
If you're already hosting the three or four largest single sources of air pollution in the entire region you need new large industrial sources of crap like a hole in the head. Likewise, if you've already violated the Clean Air Act for decades the last thing you need are new large sources of smog-producing pollution. But that's exactly what's happening with the announcement last week that a new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plant is being proposed for Midlothian's Railport Industrial Park, located between Midlothian and Venus on Highway 67, directly below, and upwind, of the Dallas-Tarrant County line.
Applied Natural Gas Fuels (ANGF) put out a press release on March 21st that touted the purchase of 31 acres for a facility that would house "five liquefaction units, each able to produce 86,000 gallons of fuel daily, and total onsite storage of 1.5 million LNG gallons."
"In preparation of building the facility, which was announced last September, ANGF has purchase orders for all long-lead time items, such as storage tanks, production skids and electric motors and compressors, the company said.
The plant seeks to supply both road transportation and other off-road high-horsepower applications, such as rail, marine, mining, remote power generation and oilfield exploration/production (E&P) operations."
LNG plants take natural gas and cool it to minus 260 degrees F, at which point it becomes a liquid. This allows the industry to be able to store and move it compactly. It's been described as reducing the air out of a beach ball to shrink it to the size of a ping pong ball. But it also greatly increases the chances of accidents. If there's a leak or spill from a tank or pipeline the LNG would convert back to a gas. As it diluted with air, the natural gas/air mixture could become potentially explosive if the concentration of natural gas in air reached between 4% and 17%. In this range, any source of ignition (cell phone, cigarette lighter, attic fan, light switch, auto or boat engine spark plug, carpet spark, etc.) could ignite a vapor cloud and impact a large area.
ANGF already operates an LNG plant in Topock, Arizona, only three miles on the other side of California's border – and tougher regulations. At the same time it's building its new facility in Texas, the company is also doubling the capacity of the Arizona plant. According to an online document about the company's current operations from the Southern California Air Pollution Control District,
"…the gas must be stripped of impurities until it's over 98% methane. Co2, H2S, other sulfur components, moisture, mercury, and particles are stripped via acid gas removal and disposal, gas dehydration, mercury removal, and particle filtration…. The emissions associated with these processes include CO, VOC, SOx, NOx, H2S, particulates, and many toxic organic compounds."
That's Carbon Monoxide, a poison everyone's familiar with, Volatile Organic Compounds, a smog-producing class of chemicals like Benzene and Toluene, many of which are also carcinogenic, Sulfur Dioxide, a respiratory irritant which also causes acid rain, Nitrogen Oxide, a smog-producing respiratory irritant, PM pollution that's been linked to everything from heart attacks to Parkinson's, Mercury, a notorious neurotoxin, and oh yes, Hydrogen Sulfide, or "sour gas," a highly toxic and flammable poison that causes pulmonary edema at low concentrations and death at high ones.
We don't have specific annual volumes of those pollutants for the Midlothian plant yet, and may never get them if the facility receives a standard permit with only an upper ceiling of emissions, but LNG plants use a lot of energy, and therefore have the potential to emit a lot of air pollution. It appears that the Midlothian plant will be burning natural gas for its power, including huge gas turbine compressors. At much larger LNG export plants proposed for the coasts, these compressors have been the subject of a lot of concern. Last November, a Canadian wildlife conservation group released a report on a string of proposed LNG plants for British Columbia that estimated the facilities would be burning most of the gas used in the Province,
"The report, Air Advisory: The Air Quality Impacts of Liquefied Natural Gas Operations Proposed for Kitimat, B.C., concluded LNG plants permitted to operate primarily with natural gas will collectively burn 60 per cent of all the natural gas burned annually in B.C.
The report concluded nitrogen oxide emissions from the LNG plants would increase 500 per cent above existing levels. Nitrogen oxide emissions create acid rain, which harms waterways and fish and creates smog, which causes respiratory problems for children and the elderly, the report states.
The report also concluded natural gas driven LNG plants will increase emissions in the Kitimat area of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide."
As a result of these kinds of concerns, the Canadian government committed to spending over a half million dollars on a study of how the gas industry will affect air quality in this part of British Columbia.
The Midlothian plant will be much smaller, put its impact on local and regional air quality could still be substantial depending on the design and technology. Industrial Hydrogen Sulfide and VOCs are not something you want wafting into your backyard, and anything that makes more smog is bad news for the entire DFW region.
Locating in Railport – itself a piece of heavy-metal contaminated ranch property bought and developed by TXI to prevent further liability issues – the LNG plant adds to the inventory of polluters that call Midlothian home. Three large cement plants, a steel mill, a gas power plant, and other smaller entities have made sure the city is the closest thing to a DFW Ship Channel that we have. Collectively, these facilities emit a kind of super plume of air pollution that spews north into the middle of the Metromess during most of the year. If you live anywhere from SW Dallas to NW Tarrant County, you're already breathing the pollution from Midlothian industry. How much the ANGF facility will add to that plume is not yet known, but any increase is going in the wrong direction. Stay tuned.
In a $2 billion deal, Raleigh, North Carolina-based aggregate and crushed stone manufacturer Martin Marietta Materials (a separate spin-off on the more well-know aerospace conglomerate) bought Dallas' own TXI Cement, which opened its first cement kiln in Midlothian in 1960.
This year, that kiln, along with the three other obsolete wet kilns at TXI's Midltohian plant that burned hazardous waste for two decades, is due to be demolished, following the company's corporate demise at the hands of the grandson of its founder. And then, the last remnants of the old TXI will be gone for good.
What does the change in ownership mean for breathers in North Texas?
Martin Marietta has owned and operated cement plants around the US in the past, but they'd divested themselves of these prior to 2014. As of now, the TXI cement plants in Texas and California are apparently the only ones the company owns. There's some speculation that Martin-Marietta bought TXI for its aggregate, stone, and concrete facilities in Texas and California, and will soon seek a buyer for the cement plants it inherited, but doesn't really want.
If that's true, the new owners will act as placeholders of the status quo, not investing in big new capital projects, but also trying not to lose any of the value of the assets they now have by running them into the ground. Martin probably won't look favorably upon attempts to bring smog-reducing modern Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to TXI via the next clean air plant for DFW, now due in June of 2015. Not only would the plant be among the first to adopt the technology in the US, (even though SCR has been successfully used in European cement kilns for over a decade now), but it would mean new capital investment and a new learning curve.
Swiss-based Holcim Cement, with a huge plant already in Midlothian and a large manufacturing footprint in the US, was rumored to be one of TXI's suitors before the sale was announced. It could be that Holcim, or another well-established player in the cement industry winds up with the actual kilns in the next year. That could complicate the plant's participation in the new clean air in other ways even if new owners are not as intimidated by the demand for new technology
Politically, it'll be interesting to see which Austin lawyers and lobbyists get the business of the new company. Martin-Marietta owns over 40 facilities in Texas already and is represented by it's own crew. Will TXI's law firm and lobbyists survive the buy-out? There are industry lobbyists that will keep the ball rolling no matter what – the Chemical Council, the Aggregate Association, etc. But in Austin, it's all about relationships, and it's hard to say yet how this Martin's buying of TXI changes any of them.
Maybe the place TXI's absence will be felt the most in in the corridors of power in DFW. TXI was proudly headquartered in Dallas. Ralph Rogers, TXI's founder and patriarch was a driving force in local philanthropy, giving millions to public broadcasting (KERA is housed is housed in the "Ralph Rogers Communications Center") and other non-profits. Besides feeing like he was entitled to use PBS's iconic Big Bird to sell the benefits of burning hazardous waste in 50-year-old cement kilns, the non-profit giving Rogers was responsible for made him a known figure on the Dallas Charitable circuit. In turn, this made it hard for the Powers That Be to criticize Roger's company when it became a waste incinerator.
Locally, the establishment played golf with the Rogers' or attended black tie dinners with them, or helped them lift the oversized scissors at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. But that was old Dallas. Hardly of those relationships survived past Ralph Rogers' death in 1997. His son, Robert, failed to maintain that same high-profile locally, and his grandson Jamie seems totally disinterested in the family business or its legacy of charitable giving.
Now, the move of company headquarters from Dallas to Raleigh will complete the disappearance of the once-mighty TXI on the local scene. They'll still be company representatives at functions, but it won't be the guy who can write the big checks, or who the Mayor had a splendid time with last Saturday at the Club.
The company's local political influence has forever been diminished, and that's a good thing for citizens who are fighting the company to get modern controls like SCR. Now, it's just one more corporate entity with a presence in North Texas. A presence that makes it the single largest air polluter in the region. That's the way Dallas and other downwind cities should have viewed the company all along.
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.
A funny thing happened to Dallas Morning News automobile columnist Terry Box while he was out test driving a new Dodge pick-up truck – it self-immolated and burned to ashes on the side of the road. As he writes about it, his experience is both funny and terrifying. But something he noted in how cars and trucks are made these days caught our eye:
"Open the hood of your late-model car or truck, and you’ll see a half-acre of plastic — actual engine pieces like valve covers, caps and containers for various liquids.
Thirty years ago, most of the pieces under the hood were metal and resistant to fire.
A fire in a modern vehicle burns fast and furiously. What’s intact for the moment can be gone or enveloped in toxic smoke in a matter of seconds."
Yep. When we've described the lovely new cement additive called ASR – Auto Shredder Residue – we've often talked about all the vinyl seats, dashboard and switches that get stipped out of a car and shredded, then thrown into a cement kiln. We really haven't talked about all the plastic in the engine compartment that would also be included in this new "fuel" that TXI has already been permitted to burn at its Midlothian cement plant.
As more and more of every car is made of "soft materials" – that is, not metal – more and more of it becomes fodder for cement kilns. This is material that could be recycled but isn't, and as long as it's cheaper just to burn it, there won't be amrket for recycling it.
Here's the thing, burning plastic creates bad kinds of pollution, including the creation of Dioxin, one of the most potent posions ever discovered by science. The same "toxic smoke" Terry Box saw pouring off of his burning Ram pick-up is created when you throw the same plastic parts into a cement kiln. The cement industry would like you to think that all of that is taken care of by the polluton control measures installed at the kilns, but it's not. There's no real time Dioxin montoring, much less any kind of monitoring for the host of other exotic fumes coming off burning plastic of various kinds. They barely even know what or how to test for such pollutants, but that doesn't keep the cement industry from marketing its kilns as "Long, Hot, and Good for America"™
If you're an old-timer, you might remember an earlier episode or two that occurred when the cement industry, including TXI, assured everyone that it could burn hazardous waste and make it completely disappear into water vapor. Remind us, how did that turn out?
In one of the most ambitious and far-ranging efforts of its kind ever attempted, the newly-published results of a 10-year study from Spain's national Center for Epidemiology looked for 33 different kinds of cancer in dozens of Spanish communities that hosted "waste incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste." They found "a significant higher risk from all cancers in towns near these industries."
Cancer impacts were greater around waste incinerators and scrap metal operations – you know like the three giant Midlothian cement plants upwind of DFW that are burning larger and larger amounts of industrial wastes and the steel mill across the street from them melting scrap cars.
Researchers used standard computer modeling to estimate what cancer rates should be in the host communities and then compared them to what they actually were.
"Excess cancer mortality was detected in the total population residing in the vicinity of these installations as a whole and, principally, in the vicinity of incinerators and scrap metal/end-of-life vehicle handling facilities, in particular. Special mention should be made of the results for tumors of the pleura, stomach, liver, kidney, ovary, lung, leukemia, colon–rectum, and bladder in the vicinity of all such installations. Our results support the hypothesis of a statistically significant increase in the risk of dying from cancer in towns near incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste."
There has never been any kind of systematic study of cancer rates around and downwind of the Midlothian cement plants. From the Texas birth defect registry we know that certain reproductive organ birth defects that are associated with pollutants known to have been released from the plants are higher than the state average in Ellis County.
This study, as well as the recent warnings of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry about the public health dangers of the pollution coming from the Midlothian cement plants arrives at a time when the plants are gearing up to add plastics, car interiors, and other kinds of garbage to their lists of "fuels" that will be burned. After losing the fight to be able to burn hazardous wastes willy-nilly in cement plants, the industry is turning to industrial and municipal garbage that can produce many of the same worrisome kinds of pollution. This is what makes the EPA rules governing the emissions of the nation's cement plants – rules that are still in play – so very important.