A new system to reduce mercury emissions from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant by 90 percent is working and already dramatically cutting mercury output after one month of operation, Lehigh officials announced this morning.
The reduction comes more than two years before an EPA deadline for all cement plants to reduce mercury emissions to 55 pounds per year or less. Lehigh officials said the new equipment, along with equipment installed last year that reduced emissions by 25 percent, helps put the plant’s emissions below that limit.
“We are the first cement plant in California using this progressive technology to proactively reduce our mercury emissions, and we’re among the first in the nation to use this technology,” said Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling at a press conference in Cupertino.
Wesseling said the company installed an activated carbon injection system at the end of April. After one month of operation starting May 1, testing showed that mercury had already been reduced by 90 percent.
Lehigh’s president of Western operations, Kari Saragusa, said the company, while part of a larger company, Heidelberg Cement Group, wants to “act like a little company by being good neighbors.” He said installing the equipment before the EPA deadline is “the right and prudent thing to do.”
On hand to praise Lehigh were Santa Clara County Fifth District Supervisor Liz Kniss and Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong. Both applauded the company for using innovative technology to reduce mercury.
“We are really all about our environment and maintaining the quality of that environment in this county. I think it is very fitting we’re hear to announce two years early that Lehigh has met (the EPA) standards,” Kniss said.
Wong said the city works long and hard to make sure residents’ safety is “the overriding consideration for our regulators. We are pleased that Lehigh has once again proven to be a leader and has proactively implemented technologies that will allow them to safely continue to serve the needs of Silicon Valley.”
Not on hand: Cupertino City Councilmember Barry Chang, one of the founders of No Toxic Air who against both Lehigh and Kniss, as part of the Board of Supervisors, for the in favor of Lehigh’s vested rights to mining most of its quarry lands.
Also not at the conference were representatives from Los Altos or Los Altos Hills, which over the last several months have shown in possible public health and environmental effects. Public Relations Manager and former Cupertino Mayor Sandra James said Lehigh officials plan on attending a public meeting sponsored by an ad hoc committee of the two city councils on Monday at 6 p.m., at the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 Fremont Rd.
James said the company was not asked to give a presentation, but Wesseling hopes to address the gathering from the floor. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) officials and members of the ad hoc committee will speak, as well as answer public questions.
Today Wesseling told reporters that the new system works by injecting specially treated carbon particles into the ducts of the plant, where mercury flows after having been detached from limestone heated up as part of the cement-making process. The mercury attaches itself to the carbon, which then cannot pass through fabric filter dust collectors at the base of each stack. The mercury and carbon are dropped into the cement mill, which “locks” it into the finished cement.
Next will be the installation of a continuous monitoring system within three months, so that the company can have real-time test results showing mercury output, Wesseling said.
Lehigh officials would not say how much the system cost them to purchase and install, citing the need to keep some competitive industry information private.