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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: January 2006

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

EPA, Clean up our air!

North Texas homemaker will attend today's hearing on kilns, but many Americans can't
Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
by Becky Bornhorst

Every night I walk down my street, I can see the tall smoke stacks rising up into the sky. What I can’t see, but I know is there, is the pollution coming out of these stacks as a result of cement manufacturing. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that cement kilns nationwide emitted nearly 13,000 pounds of mercury in 2002. Mercury results when coal is burned to heat kilns in the cement making process; it is released into the air where it travels into streams, lakes and rivers and eventually into our fish supplies.

But although EPA knows cement kilns are a dangerous source of mercury, they continue to give the industry a pass when it comes to cleaning up this pollution. On Dec. 2, 2005, EPA announced that although cement kilns are responsible for mercury pollution, EPA decided it was unnecessary to require limits on mercury from these coal-fired kilns. Mercury is most dangerous to women of childbearing age, young children, babies and even fetuses. Exposure can cause nervous system damage, and possibly delay learning motor functions like walking, talking and speaking.

After the rule came out in December, EPA said it would hold a public hearing at its facility in Research Triangle Park, just outside Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 24. As interest in the hearing began to grow and more and more people from across the country began to organize, including myself and other members of Downwinders at Risk, we realized not everyone could afford the plane ticket to get to Raleigh. People living next to cement kilns know how dirty they can be and that something needs to be done to curb this pollution. Many people wanted to take part in the hearing but just couldn’t afford the time and cost to go. This hearing is taking place in a state where no cement kilns exist, so local attendance will likely be low. We want EPA to realize this is an important issue to many people all over the country.

We asked EPA to set up a call-in number, where people could at least listen to what was being done to protect our health, the air we breathe and our environment. Initially, EPA said they would try to get something set up. But unexpectedly, EPA said in an email, “We will not be able to offer a phone line to submit testimony at the public hearing for the proposed amendments to the Portland Cement NESHAP. If you wish to submit testimony during the public hearing you must attend in person.”

There are over 100 cement kilns across the country. In Midlothian alone, there are three cement makers operating a total of ten kilns. California and Texas have 11 cement kilns each, Florida has nine and Pennsylvania has ten. While people in these states and in dozens of other states are forced to breathe dirty air from these facilities, EPA cannot even provide a telephone line that these people can call in to tell EPA, “Clean up our air!” Forty states currently have warnings about eating mercury-contaminated fish caught in streams, rivers and lakes. Every American has the right to tell EPA to stop this pollution, but EPA says that in order to exercise that right, you’d better be ready to pay the cost to travel to their offices on their schedule.

It is a shame that EPA has taken such a relaxed approached at limiting mercury pollution from cement kilns. It is a shame that my daughter and son, and the children of Midlothian and Gainesville and Pittsburgh are routinely forced to breathe this dirty air when they play outside. It is a shame that the federal agency that is supposed to protect our health and our environment is doing such a poor job. But most of all, it is a shame that EPA does not see the importance of allowing everyone to have the chance to speak. A simple phone number for people to call in was all we asked. Instead, EPA shamed it self again, and many Americans will not have the chance to tell EPA to start cleaning up the air we all breathe.

Becky Bornhorst is a native Texan and a homemaker who volunteers for the nonprofit group Downwinders at Risk. She and at least ten other citizens from across the country will travel to North Carolina January 24 to testify at the EPA hearing.For More Information on Mercury and Cement Kilns click here >>