New Mercury Limits Put Cement Industry 'Between Concrete & A Hard Place'

freddie mercury statue photo
Freddie Mercury Statue.
Image credit:Trip Advisor

Cement kilns emit lots of mercury. US kiln owners are facing a deadline to cut emissions way back. What will they do with the mercury waste they capture?

Native limestone, the basic raw material of concrete making, contains varying levels of mercury. Mercury emissions may also originate from natural gas used to heat the kiln, or, for example, from the addition of mercury-tainted fly ash obtained from coal-fired electrical plants. (More stringent mercury emission controls also are coming for coal-fired electrical generators - controls that will shove more mercury into the fly ash.)

USEPA has recently defined best industry practice as achieving a 60% reduction in cement-making mercury emissions. This, as stimulus packaging funding for major construction projects is finally kicking in.

What will cement makers do with the mercury they remove from waste streams, fill statues? Read on for a local example.Just when the cost of natural gas fell, mercury controls coming from USEPA will be making a the cement industry an especially hard place to be. S. Heather Duncan at, of Macon Georgia USA, reports that New air rules could affect cement plants in Houston.

Federal regulators are proposing tougher new air quality standards for Portland cement plants, just as a federal stimulus package creates a greater demand for concrete.

Existing plants, including the Clinchfield Cemex plant in Houston County — Georgia’s only major cement plant — would face limits on their mercury emissions for the first time.

Here's the money quotes from USEPA's cost benefit analysis, cited in the Macon story:
The EPA modeled the financial impact of the proposed changes and found the benefits would outweigh estimated costs of $222 million to $684 million annually in 2013. Benefits were calculated at $2.2 billion to $11 billion annually — including the value of preventing 620 to 1,600 premature deaths a year...The Portland Cement Association argues that the proposed standard isn’t achievable for many plants. Mercury and sulfur content in limestone varies in different regions, so some plants would have to remove much more pollution than others.
One more thing to keep in mind: once the mercury is scrubbed from emissions, it has to be stored somewhere.

The Governor of Idaho recently made Idaho the poster state for mercury storage NIMBYism. Once all this mercury from kilns and coal fired electricity plants is captured, it's going to be as hard to find a managment site for it as it is for radiological waste.

Art is the answer. Provide public arts funding for the casting of massive bronze sculptures which will be filled with mercury. Install these statuary on the grounds or in the mezzanines of the buildings or along highways built with the aid of Federal stimulus grants. Make them tourist destinations.

Got a better idea?

More posts on mercury and cement.
Cement Kiln Mercury Emissions Regulated - In Time For Earth Day ...
Another Reason to Laugh When They Say that Concrete is Green ...
Cement Makers, Worldwide, Volunteer 25% Cutback in CO2 Emissions ...