Cement Emissions and Social Justice

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing final rules that will protect Americans' health by cutting emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from Portland cement manufacturing, the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States. The rules are expected to yield $7 to $19 in public health benefits for every dollar in costs. Mercury can damage children's developing brains, and particle pollution is linked to a wide variety of serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.
I have a personal connection to this news item:

A friend of mine did her Ph.D. dissertation monitoring emissions from cement plants to document their pollution. Plant operators were not cooperative with her research. They would ban her from access to their sites and, if they discovered her setting up monitoring stations downwind, would temporarily modify production to artificially reduce emissions.

Understanding and reducing pollution was only one aspect of her research. Social justice was another. Cement plants, she explained, are usually located in "economically disadvantaged" neighborhoods that lacked the resources to oppose the pollution. The children with the least access to medical care, she observed, were the ones bearing the brunt of the toxic emissions from cement plants.

Social justice is fundamental to sustainable construction.  The Hannover Principles, a set of succinct guideposts to sustainable construction puts "human rights" at the top of its list of criteria for green construction.

I am sure the EPA's new guidelines do not satisfy my friend. Still, I salute her work for helping make the EPA's efforts possible.

Her research is published in the following (emphasis added):

"Wet deposition of mercury within the vicinity of a cement plant before and during cement plant maintenance, Atmospheric Environment (March 2010)

Abstract: Hg species (total mercury, methylmercury, reactive mercury) in precipitation were investigated in the vicinity of the Lehigh Hanson Permanente Cement Plant in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA., USA. Precipitation was collected weekly between November 29, 2007 and March 20, 2008, which included the period in February and March 2008 when cement production was minimized during annual plant maintenance. When the cement plant was operational, the volume weighted mean (VWM) and wet depositional flux for total Hg (HgT) were 6.7 and 5.8 times higher, respectively, compared to a control site located 3.5 km east of the cement plant. In February and March, when cement plant operations were minimized, levels were approximately equal at both sites (the ratio for both parameters was 1.1). Due to the close proximity between the two sites, meteorological conditions (e.g., precipitation levels, wind direction) were similar, and therefore higher VWM HgT levels and HgT deposition likely reflected increased Hg emissions from the cement plant. Methylmercury (MeHg) and reactive Hg (Hg(II)) were also measured; compared to the control site, the VWM for MeHg was lower at the cement plant (the ratio ¼ 0.75) and the VWM for Hg(II) was slightly higher (ratio ¼ 1.2), which indicated the cement plant was not likely a significant source of these Hg species to the watershed.

"Evidence for short-range transport of atmospheric mercury to a rural, inland site," Atmospheric Environment (March 2010)

Abstract: Atmospheric mercury (Hg) species, including gaseous elemental mercury (GEM), reactive gaseous mercury (RGM) and particulate-bound mercury (Hgp), were monitored near three sites, including a cement plant (monitored in 2007 and 2008), an urban site and a rural site (both monitored in 2005 and 2008). Although the cement plant was a significant source of Hg emissions (for 2008, GEM: 2.20 =/- 1.39 ng m-3, RGM: 25.2 =/- 52.8 pg m-3, Hgp 80.8 =/- 283 pg m-3), average GEM levels and daytime average dry depositional RGM flux were highest at the rural site, when all three sites were monitored sequentially in 2008 (rural site, GEM: 2.37 =/- 1.26 ng m-3, daytime RGM flux: 29 =/- 40 ng m-2 day-1). Photochemical conversion of GEM was not the primary RGM source, as highest net RGM gains (75.9 pg m-3, 99.0 pg m-3, 149 m-3) occurred within 3.0-5.3 h, while the theoretical time required was 14e23 h. Instead, simultaneous peaks in RGM, Hgp, ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide in the late afternoon suggested short-range transport of RGM from the urban center to the rural site. The rural site was located more inland, where the average water vapor mixing ratio was lower compared to the other two sites (in 2008, rural: 5.6 =/- 1.4 g kg-1, urban: 9.0 =/- 1.1 g kg-1, cement plant: 8.3 =/- 2.2 g kg-1). Together, these findings suggested short-range transport of O3 from an urban area contributed to higher RGM deposition at the rural site, while drier conditions helped sustain elevated RGM levels. Results suggested less urbanized environments may be equally or perhaps more impacted by industrial atmospheric Hg emissions, compared to the urban areas from where Hg emissions originated.