Seattle's cement plants puff out toxic mercury, report says
Two Seattle cement plants puff out as much as 91 pounds of mercury each year, according to a report released today by the environmental groups Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project.
Seattle Times environment reporter
Cement plants, including two in Seattle's industrial Duwamish area, are pumping toxic mercury into the air.
The two Seattle plants, hulking mazes of conveyor belts and smokestacks visible from the West Seattle Bridge, puff out as much as 91 pounds of mercury each year, according to a report released today by the environmental groups Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project. Those estimates came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
That's just a tiny fraction of the 23,000 pounds of mercury the EPA estimates comes from U.S. cement plants every year. And it's far below the record-setting levels from a cement plant in Eastern Oregon. That facility, in Durkee, Ore., is thought to be the biggest single industrial source of mercury in the country — at more than 2,500 pounds per year.
But Eric Schaeffer, of the Integrity Project, said even small amounts of the potent brain poison are a problem.
"We are talking about mercury," he said. "No amount of it is a good thing."
One kind of mercury from smokestacks spreads into the atmosphere, while other kinds are more likely to come back to earth nearby. It's not clear how much of the mercury from the Seattle plants is the type that is more likely to land nearby.
The report was released as environmental groups are pressuring the EPA over mercury regulation. The agency is expected to issue draft regulations for mercury from cement plants later this year. That comes after repeated lawsuits by environmental groups accusing the EPA of illegally refusing to address the problem.
In a news release issued today, the EPA said it was looking at its regulations of the cement plants. It also touted a 45 percent overall reduction of U.S. mercury emissions since 1990.
"Reducing mercury in the environment is an EPA priority," the news release stated.
Representatives for the two cement plants in Seattle, Ash Grove and Lafarge, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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