I am one of those people who suffer when clean air rules are delayed. I have asthma and live just a couple of miles from a cement plant. The cement plant I live near in Oklahoma is classified as a High Priority Violator of the Clean Air Act and has been for many years.
So last month, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new air pollution standards for cement kilns and industrial boilers, it was good news that the long awaited standards were finally being issued. But the standards have been weakened from the rules earlier proposed by the EPA.
In a press release, the EPA said the new rules will,
“…achieve extensive public health protections by slashing toxic air pollution, including mercury and particle pollution, while at the same addressing feedback provided by industry and labor groups, increasing the rule’s flexibility and dramatically reducing costs.”
While the new standards are weaker than many hoped for, the EPA estimates the new standards could prevent 8,100 premature deaths each year. And it will help prevent many heart attacks, asthma attacks, and emergency room visits.
One very disappointing outcome is a two or three year delay in imposing a rule on cement plant emissions that would have helped cut mercury emissions by 93 percent, hydrochloric acid by 96 percent, and particulate matter by 91 percent.
These delays are not the only victory for the cement industry, the EPA is also finalizing the definition of solid waste. This rule will permit the burning of tires, railroad ties, and plastic bottles. Earthjustice staff attorney James Pew said,
“…they will be burning waste without controlling pollution.”
The cement plant near me in Oklahoma is one of the plants that is already burning tires. Burning tires is a dirty business that just adds more toxins in our air. The cement industry calls this recycling. An estimated 230,000,000 tires are “recycled” every year in the U.S. and many of those go to plants like the one in my Oklahoma town or one in Dundee, Michigan.
The cement industry says increased regulations will cost jobs, but according the EPA’s estimates, not having more regulations could cost up to 2,500 lives. And countless asthma attacks and other health issues caused by pollution from cement plants.
I’m living proof that we cannot delay in creating air pollution improvements that will protect our families health. Unfortunately, it seems the cement industry believes you can put a price on human lives.