Cement plant slashes mercury emissions

June 3, 2011 7:13:34 PM PDT
A cement plant in Cupertino is taking steps to drastically reduce mercury emissions. The move comes in advance of rules by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will require action at all plants across the country.

Lehigh Cement Plant in Cupertino has been turning limestone into cement for decades now and in recent years people living in the area have grown more concerned about the toxic byproducts.

"We are implementing a very innovative technology for the cement industry," said Henrik Wesseling with Lehigh. "We are the first cement plant in California to apply this emission reduction technology."

The company says it deployed an activated carbon injection system last month. Early test results show mercury emissions into the air is reduced by as much as 90 percent.

One neighborhood group critical of Lehigh's operations is applauding the company's efforts to reduce their mercury emissions.

"They have been one of the biggest mercury emitters in the cement industry," said Bill Almon with the group Quarry No! "They are now the first to use this and we look forward to seeing the results."

Lehigh says it will be installing an EPA-approved monitoring system at the plant in October and that system should reassure everyone of the mercury reductions.

The entire cement industry is under orders from the federal government to comply with new mercury standards by September 2013. County leaders praise Lehigh for leading the pack in making the changes.

"They actually didn't have to comply until 2013," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, "so I think it shows true good faith with the community and real commitment to air quality.They have met this more than two years early."

Lehigh is one of the largest cement plants nationwide to operate in an urban area and numberous public meetings have put pressure on the company to address residential concerns.

"We need to keep an eye on them because they seem to react most strongly when they have a sense people are watching and pushing for action," Almon said.

Lehigh says its efforts to reduce mercury emissions are so ahead of the curve that they likely will be adopted in other plants across the country.


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