Attorney General Cuomo, Nine-state Coalition Announce Settlement With Epa To Cut Toxic Mercury Air Pollution From Cement Plants

NEW YORK, N.Y. (January 16, 2009) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced today that his office, leading a nine state coalition, has reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring new limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that cement plants can discharge.   

The EPA’s new rules will address mercury and other toxic emissions from Portland cement plants nationwide, including in New York. Portland cement is the most common type of cement and a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco and grout. New York state is home to three Portland cement plants: the LaFarge plant in Ravena, the St. Lawrence plant in Catskill, and the Glens Falls plant in Glens Falls. Collectively, these three plants discharge roughly 500 pounds of mercury emissions in New York’s air each year – about 20 percent of all mercury emitted annually in the state.

“For years, the Bush Administration’s EPA thumbed its nose at the Clean Air Act and refused to set strict standards for controlling emissions of mercury from cement plants,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “The EPA has made the right choice by going back to the drawing board and committing to adopt new hazardous air pollutant standards for cement plants that comply with the Clean Air Act. My office looks forward to working with the Obama Administration to protect the environment for the sake of our future generations.”

In February 2007, Cuomo led a coalition including Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in filing a lawsuit against the EPA for adopting air emission standards for cement plants that did not adequately control mercury and other hazardous air pollutants. The suit argued that the Bush Administration’s EPA, in violation of the Clean Air Act, had not based emission standards for these plants on state-of-the-art pollution control technology.

Today’s settlement requires EPA to propose new standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutant emissions from cement plants by March 31, 2009 and, after taking public comment, adopt final standards by March 31, 2010. As required by the Clean Air Act, the Agency must require the maximum available control technology in setting these standards. The settlement will go into effect after EPA publishes it in the Federal Register and provides an opportunity for notice and comment.

Several environmental groups joined New York and the eight other states in today’s settlement, including the New York-based Friends of Hudson, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Downwinders At Risk, Huron Environmental Activist League and Montanans Against Toxic Burning. The Portland Cement Association, an industry group, also signed the settlement.
 
“Cement plants are among the worst mercury polluters in this country,” said Jim Pew, attorney with Earthjustice. “We are pleased that our work with Attorney General Cuomo and the other states has resulted in this important environmental victory.”

Mercury released into the air can make its way into lakes, rivers, and coastal waters, where the most toxic form can build up in fish and shellfish – the main sources of mercury exposure to humans. The New York State Department of Health has issued fish consumption advisories for at least 136 specific bodies of water, warning women of childbearing age not to eat fish because of dangerously high mercury levels.  In humans, mercury can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Children and developing fetuses are at special risk to mercury, with even minute levels being linked to problems with memory, attention and language development.  Mercury can also lead to reduced reproduction, slower growth and development, abnormal behavior, and even death in wildlife that eat contaminated fish.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Michael Myers under the supervision of Special Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection Katherine Kennedy. 

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