Amidst House Vote, New Research Shows What Cement Companies Are Saying, or Not Saying, When It Comes to Our Health and Environment

It’s hard to imagine that any company would oppose efforts to save American lives, not to mention avoid a significant number of asthma attacks, heart attacks, and emergency room visits that result from mercury, soot and other toxic air pollution.  This is especially true when those same companies have issued corporate policies and statements that claim to support environmental and public health stewardship and sustainable practices. 

But when it comes to clean air standards for cement plants, this is exactly what is happening, according to new research conducted by NRDC.  What’s even more disconcerting is that some of those same cement companies even say they can meet the standards, while at the same time they are supporting efforts that would gut and block toxic air pollution standards for cement plants.  

According to our findings 7 companies--Buzzi Unicem, Cemex, Eagle Concrete Products, Eagle Materials (see note at end of post), Essroc Cement Co., Lafarge North America, Lehigh Hanson, and Titan America--are on record for supporting delays of or opposing current Clean Air Act standards for cement plants.  Two of these companies, Lehigh Hanson and Essroc Cement, have made noteworthy statements that they can and intend to meet the standards at their facilities by the 2013 compliance deadline.  All of these companies have also made commitments to environmental protection, public health stewardship, and/or sustainability on their websites, financial reports, and/or sustainability reports.  

Four other companies--Ash Grove Cement, GCC of America, National Cement Company, and Monarch Cement--have also said that they can meet some, if not all, of the standards in time or have the ability to finance pollution control retrofits, but have stayed silent regarding their position on H.R. 2681 and other efforts to block, delay and weaken the standards.

Please see the sections below for the full and detailed research and analysis.

The Backdrop: House Vote Today on H.R. 2681 and PCA’s Position to Date

With the House of Representatives poised to vote on the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 (H.R. 2681) today—a bill that would overturn current Clean Air Act standards that reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution from cement plants—it’s clear that the cement industry is more concerned with their corporate profits than the impacts of their operations on our public health and environment.  The bill would delay current compliance deadlines for the cement industry by a minimum of 4-and-a-half years.  The bill also eliminates any actual deadline by which companies have to meet the standards once they are re-issued, allowing an indefinite delay.  EPA estimates that a delay of even five years for these standards would result in an additional 12,500 premature deaths, 7,500 heart attacks, and 85,000 asthma attacks.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA), the cement’s industry’s trade association, has been very vocal in its support of this legislation and other congressional efforts to weaken, delay, and block these health safeguards.  At an April 2011 hearing in the House Energy and Power subcommittee, Mr. Aris Papadopoulos, Chairman of PCA and the CEO of Titan America, went so far as to claim that the cement industry has “never seen any empirical data for the health impacts” of cement plants’ air pollution. Overwhelming scientific evidence contradicts this absurd claim. (See later in the blog for more on this point.)  Mr. Papadopoulos even called for the Clean Air Act to be replaced at the hearing—“I am for replacing it.”

Findings from Our Research

  • What Cement Companies Are Saying or Not Saying When It Comes to the Standards, Our Public Health and Environmental Projection

NRDC looked into what representatives for PCA’s member companies, other cement companies, and their plants have been saying publically about these health protections and efforts in Congress to delay and weaken them.  We also looked at their commitments and policies related to the environment, sustainability, and public health.  We examined their websites, recent press statements and releases, financial reports, and comments to EPA on the standards and scoured media clips from the past year to find out how much they care about our public health, particularly the health of the communities surrounding their operations.

 Seven companies, including Buzzi Unicem, Cemex, Eagle Concrete Products, Eagle Materials (see note at end of post), Essroc Cement Co., Lafarge North America, Lehigh Hanson, and Titan America, have publicly supported some sort of delay and/or significant “revisions” (read “gutting” here) to the standards. 

Of this group, Essroc Cement and Lehigh Hanson simultaneously have made noteworthy statements that they can and intend to meet the standards at their facilities by the 2013 compliance deadline.

  • Essroc Cement representatives said that their plant in Nazareth, PA is prepared to meet the new standards.  They said that sites in Nazareth and Martinsburg have emission control systems that can be modified to meet the new regulations. [The Express-Times, 6/26/2011]
  • Lehigh Hanson’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tom Chizmadia, said that the company is working toward meeting the standards—“As a company, our intent is to comply fully with this rule.” [Reading Eagle, 8/17/2011].  Tim Matz, Lehigh’s director of environmental affairs also said that “we are pretty confident that we can meet the new standard.” [San Jose Mercury News, “Residents vs. the cement plant,”2/11/2011]

These companies have the capacity to meet the standards by the proposed deadline—they just don’t want to.  This is not only disturbing, but downright irresponsible to us here at NRDC.  These companies have the ability to save American lives and avoid diseases and misery, by dramatically reducing the impact of their operations and harmful pollution that affects the communities surrounding their plants and their customers at large…but they would rather not do so.  

Some other companies have also said that they can meet some, if not all, of the standards in time or have the ability to finance pollution control retrofits, but have stayed silent regarding their position on H.R. 2681 and other efforts to block, delay or weaken the standards. 

  • Ash Grove Cement pledged to meet the new standards by 2013.  As the company’s Chairman Charlie Sunderland said, “[w]e expect that we will achieve compliance with the limits within the allotted three-year period.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 8/10/2010
  • GCC of America also stated in a press release from April 2011 that it is “committed to making substantial investments immediately to be in full compliance and intends to lead the industry in environmental stewardship…GCC is moving forward to make significant capital investments at its domestic plants to comply with these new regulations and to maintain our right to operate.” [GCC of America, 10/12/2010]
  • National Cement Company disclosed in its comments to EPA on the proposed standard that it could meet some of the emissions standards at its two facilities.  The company’s Lebec facility already has control technologies to limit particulate matter (PM) pollution in accordance with the standard and its proposed Ragland facility’s new kiln as permitted includes technologies to limit PM as well.  [Regulations.gov, 9/4/2009 (see pp. 13-14)]
  • In their 2010 annual financial report, Monarch Cement said that the company’s “current emission levels are below the proposed limitations for mercury and THC so additional control equipment is not required for these pollutants…” While the company “does not currently meet certain emission limitations included in the latest regulations issued by the EPA,” the company believes that it “can finance our planned capital expenditures with a mixture of cash from operations and our existing line of credit.”  The company even stated that “current economic conditions have provided opportunities to replace and add equipment at more favorable prices.”  That’s quite a different story from the gloom-and-doom tale that PCA is telling Congress that cement companies won’t be able to finance such retrofits and will be forced to shut down. [Monarch Cement, 2010 (see pp. 22, 32, and 36]

Nine other companies and their subsidiaries haven’t said anything either about their position on the legislation and other efforts to delay or weaken the standards or their ability to meet them.  For now, they seem to be letting PCA speak on their behalf. 

  • Cement Company Commitments to Environmental Protection and Sustainability

What’s most perplexing about these statements and positions, and in some cases silence, is that most of these companies claim to be committed to environmental protection, public health stewardship, and sustainability.

Let’s examine what some of the companies that support delaying or oppose the standards have said:

  • In its 2008 Sustainability Report, Buzzi Unicem states that, “We endeavor to respect the environment and the local areas accommodating our plants.” The report also states that the company has “always dedicated special attention to environmental issues and to respect for the environment” and does so “not only by complying with increasingly stringent regulations but also by achieving certain objectives via application of the best available technologies.” In addition, the report highlights that “safety in the workplace and the safeguarding of health are fundamental elements of our staff policy.”
  • On its website, CEMEX highlights that the company is “committed to mitigating the impacts that our plants, quarries, and logistics have on their surrounding communities,” and has “designed a set of global environmental initiatives to manage our impacts responsibly.”  In its 2010 Sustainable Development report, CEMEX also states, “Our global environmental strategy addresses all the environmental impacts of our plants, quarries, and logistics, including emissions to air, land, and water.  We focus on these challenges not only to help preserve the long-term health of people and ecosystems, but also to build strong positive relationships with local communities…”
  • Essroc Cement’s parent company Italcementi Group has developed an environmental policy for all its businesses.  Under this policy, Italcementi Group “strives to prevent, or otherwise minimize, mitigate and remediate the environmental impacts of all the Group’s activities.”  On its website, the Group also states that it is “committed to monitor and reduce emissions to the atmosphere.”
  • Lafarge prominently highlights its commitments to environmental protection on its website, stating that “sustained economic growth cannot occur without social progress, environmental protection, and respect for local communities.” In its 2009 Sustainability Report, the company also states that “Lafarge actively lobbies governments for high quality environmental, social and technology standards and for strict enforcement of regulations.” 
  • On its website, Titan America states that the company’s vision is “to be recognized as one of the leading enterprises in our industry on Sustainability and Environmental Stewardship.”  The company also states that it is “committed to strategies and actions that mitigate and reduce our operational impact on the environment (do less harm), identify and pursue win-win opportunities for both economy and ecology and actively contribute to worthwhile local, national, and international initiatives (do more good).”  As part of its commitments, Titan America aims to “comply at minimum with local, state, and federal regulations and legislation” and “contribute to the well-being of the local communities…”

NRDC will be posting more information and research on other companies’ commitments in follow-up blogs.

  • Why Cement Companies Should Support the Standards

These companies’ contradictory statements and actions when it comes to protecting our public health and environment threaten to publicly undermine their current commitments, investments, and reputation on responsible stewardship and sustainability.  As well as undermine the simple common decency they owe the communities in which they operate by cleaning up their own pollution. 

Cement plants rank in the top 5 of the biggest emitters of mercury air emissions in the United States.  The cement industry itself reported to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) that U.S. cement plants emitted 11,177 pounds of mercury in 2007 (TRI data and reports available here). However, EPA’s analysis indicates that plants emit much more than this, approximately 18,000 pounds per year by 2013. These mercury air emissions deposit in oceans, lakes and streams where it accumulates in fish, other wildlife, and humans.  As numerous studies have shown (see pp. 100-102 here), mercury is a potent neurotoxin that harms children’s developing brains. Even in low doses, mercury can cause developmental problems in children such as learning disabilities and lower IQ points and increased risk of heart attack in adults.  Plants also emit acid gases, soot, dioxins and sulfur dioxide which increase rates of premature death, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and asthma attacks.

These health safeguards represent the most important measures that cement plants will take in the coming years to reduce the impact of their operations and protect our public health and environment.  In addition to saving lives and reducing often debilitating health impacts from pollution, the safeguards also will produce total monetized benefits of up to $18 billion annually, outweighing costs by a factor of 19 to 1.  They will also level the playing field so that all companies will be required to meet the same standard to control their toxic air pollution.

  • Our Appeal to the Companies
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NRDC has sent letters to the following companies that will be subject to the new standards, urging them to reverse their positions where necessary and support the standards: Alamo Cement Co., Armstrong Cement & Supply, Ash Grove Cement, Buzzi Unicem, California Portland Cement Co., Capitol Aggregates, CEMEX, Dragon Products Co., Eagle Materials, Essroc Cement Corp., Florida Rock Industries, GCC of America, Holcim, Lafarge North America, Mitsubishi Cement Corp., Monarch Cement Co., Salt River Materials Group, Rinker Materials Corp., St. Lawrence Cement Co., St. Marys Cement Co., Suwannee American Cement, Texas Industries, and Titan America.

We have appealed to them to let the communities surrounding their plants, their customers, and the public know where they stand on this irresponsible dirty air legislation.  Especially for those companies that are members of the Portland Cement Association, we believe it is important that the companies inform the public whether or not PCA is speaking on the companies’ behalf when it supports legislation that would cause so many health hazards to Americans.  We are urging the companies to publicly oppose H.R. 2681 and asked them to inform us of their stance on the legislation.     

There’s still time left for these companies to save face and do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and our environment, by voicing their opposition to H.R. 2681

We will report in a future blog all responses and non-responses from these cement companies, as well as the outcome of the House floor vote on H.R. 2681.

(Correction: It has come to our attention that Eagle Materials was inadvertently listed among the group of companies that are on record for supporting delays and/or repeals of the standards. Eagle Materials has no known stance on delaying or blocking the standards.  We have struck the company's name in the blog post above to correct this error.)

About the Authors

Christina Angelides

Director, Research and Analytics, City Energy Project and Senior Policy Advocate, Urban Solutions Program

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