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Cement Plant May Have To Meet Stricter Standards By Next Year

The Sierra Club, and Los Altos Hills and Cupertino residents press for even higher standards at a special meeting.

could be held to a September 2013 deadline for meeting new air quality standards despite the fact that the rest of the country may not have to meet similar standards until 2015, it was announced at an air district meeting in Cupertino on Monday.

In proposing Lehigh meet stricter standards by the earlier date, Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) representatives walk a tight rope between concerned residents who say and Lehigh officials who say the company will suffer a competitive disadvantage if forced to comply with rules not required of other plants in the country.

News of the proposal from BAAQMD staff came in the midst of the special meeting of the district’s Board of Directors in Cupertino’s . The board, composed of county supervisors and appointees from each of the district’s nine counties, usually meets in San Francisco.

“Welcome to this key part of Silicon Valley, where we take pride in having built a major economic engine for the world, based largely on attracting the best minds from around the world,” said Cupertino Council member Rod Sinks, who addressed the board during the public comment period.

“We need to keep Silicon Valley’s minds and lungs healthy to remain competitive.”

The public hearing included a field trip to a parking lot at the base of Lehigh’s cement kiln and quarry in the foothills, located about seven minutes from Quinlan Center. Pointing to the cement plant in the hills just above, Lehigh executives answered questions from district board members and the public.

BAAQMD staff members told directors that they are planning on bringing the September 2013 deadline for new rules up for a vote by a Sept. 5 board meeting.

Originally the EPA was requiring that all facilities in the country manufacturing what’s known as Portland cement would be required meet new National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) to reduce mercury emissions as well as other toxic contaminants by September 2013. A legal challenge by the Portland cement industry resulted in a court decision that could result in pushing back the deadline by two years.

Despite the delay, BAAQMD staff members are recommending that Lehigh be held to the 2013 deadline, saying the new standards are needed to “ensure public health protections for the nearby community,” Senior Air Quality Specialist Robert Cave told the board.

Brian Bateman, BAAQMD’s director of compliance and enforcement, reported that the new standards would allow for no more than 55 pounds of mercury per million tons of clinker, one of the ingredients in Portland cement. As a result of , the plant is currently emitting 69 pounds per million tons. Bateman said with no controls that amount could be as much as 900 pounds.

Cave reminded directors that Lehigh is the largest single source of NOx, or oxides of nitrogen, in the nine-county area, putting the district out of compliance with federal standards. The new proposed rules could reduce NOx to 3,900 pounds per day; in 2010 Lehigh was emitting as much as 9,200 pounds per day. 

He also said the new rules would result in reductions in particulate matter, benzene and hydrochloric acid.

The cost of meeting the standards is estimated at between $2 million and $3 million, Cave said. Control equipment for NOx could cost around $2.3 million, with an operating cost of about $900,000 per year.

Lehigh’s director of environmental affairs, Tim Matz, said the company should not be “singled out throughout the country as being the only facility that has to comply earlier,” putting it in a competitive disadvantage with other companies.

Lehigh’s “priority number one is environmental stewardship,” Interim plant manager Axel Conrads told directors. He pointed out that Lehigh was the first cement plant in North America to install the mercury reduction equipment in 2011, reducing emissions by 90 percent. He mentioned

Ten residents spoke at the meeting, including Cupertino City Council members Barry Chang and Sinks, representing themselves as citizens. Chang said he also represented the group he founded, Bay Area Clean Environment. Also speaking were Gary Latshaw of the Sierra Club, and Bill Almon of the group Quarry No.

Among other objections they raised, residents argued that the plant should be held to even higher standards for new and modified plants, something both BAAQMD staff and Lehigh officials rejected. They said the cement plant does not meet the federal definition of a modified plant.

Sinks underscored residents’ concern that a major emitter of toxic substances sits adjacent to a populated area in his welcome to directors.

Other news from the meeting:

  • A previously proposed 300-foot stack to channel emissions from the cement kiln will not be constructed, BAAQMD officials said. They doubted Lehigh would be able to secure the necessary permits. Matz told Patch that FAA clearance was one issue. Both the staff and Lehigh officials said another design would have to be developed to allow for tracking of emissions to comply with health risk assessment monitoring requirements.
  • After a year of monitoring at Monta Vista Park in Cupertino, BAAQMD officials said data shows the air quality in the park about one mile east of Lehigh is within national standards for compounds such as fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, NOx, ozone, sufur dioxide, and others. Charts presented showed Cupertino either in the middle or low-end of results compared to other Bay Area monitoring stations. Using the data, the lifetime cancer risk of residents due to the toxins present was calculated to be lower than residents in San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco and Benicia.

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Frank Geefay May 24, 2012 at 10:58 PM
It seems strange that Lehigh claimed that the highest annual mercury output was 523 lbs. in 2005 near their peak production as they reported to the EPA. Now Brian Bateman, Director of Engineering at BAAQMD says in this article that "with no controls that amount could be as much as 900 pounds." when Lehigh is running at almost half their normal production due to the poor economy. Lehigh must have measured their mercury output using their new mercury monitor without the carbon injection system running. Why haven't they published these numbers? What is the actual mercury output? Is it closer to 900 lbs. according to Bateman? Are they now implying that Lehigh has been putting out as much as 1800 lbs. of mercury per year at full production prior to the 2008 economic crash? How would the Health Risk Assessment have looked like if the amount of mercury was more realistically 1800 lbs. per year instead of 523 lbs.? Would the Health Risk Assessment have indicated a significant Health Hazard from mercury for all the years since mercury has been reported to the BAAQMD and EPA and perhaps much longer before that? How has the true adverse health impact upon Cupertino and other nearby communities actually been as reported by many residents, especially for children? There have been many reports of autism and breathing problems in children living near Lehigh Cement. Are we finally getting close to the truth?

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