By SEAN HARKINS
News Staff Writer
A recent ruling that will result in the Environmental Protection Agency setting standards for mercury emissions from cement plants is being lauded by a local environmental group.
"We consider this a victory on our part that the EPA finally decided to do something," Huron Environmental Activist League Director Bill Freese said.
The EPA will propose a mercury rule for the plants by March 31, and will make a final decision on the standards within a year of that date.
Freese said while the standards haven't been set, he considers their existence to be progress.
"It has to be much better than what's being emitted right now," he said.
Lafarge Plant Manager Dave Dziubinski said the possibility of having EPA standards has been discussed for years and last week's decision wasn't a shock.
"This is not a surprise. I'm glad we're here finally," Dziubinski said. "Going forward we can focus on the challenges of deciding what the appropriate rules should be."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to high levels of mercury can cause brain damage and kidney damage and can be especially damaging when passed from a mother to a fetus - potentially causing retardation, blindness and seizures.
When mercury enters the waterways it can move up the aquatic food chain and be ingested by humans who eat fish out of tainted lakes.
An emissions test done in December 2005 showed Lafarge's Alpena plant emits 581.39 pounds of mercury per year, if all the kilns are running every hour of the day. A September 2006 study showed the plant emitting a worst-case-scenario of 423.98 pounds per year.
Lafarge representatives have said the plant now emits 350-360 pounds per year, which is disputed by HEAL. The plant does not currently operate under any permits that restrict its mercury emissions.
Dziubinski said the numbers Lafarge reports are "as solid as can be" and are based on actual stack testing.
Freese said he believes the EPA should be able to get more done than the DEQ in regards to the emissions.
The plant is constantly looking at ways to improve its environmental impact, Dziubinski said. He said there are several things the plant is looking at to help reduce emissions.
The plant has done a test and is awaiting a permit for the burning of certain plastics in its kilns. Dziubinski said the emissions from the plastic are cleaner than those from coal and petroleum coke - the fuel it currently uses.
"We're going to continue to use science in our commitment to the community to guide the innovations we want to make from an environmental standpoint," he said.
Sean Harkins can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.