The Lehigh Southwest Cement Company will pay a $10,000 administrative civil liability fine to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for sediment-laden runoff into Permanente Creek, a company official confirmed Tuesday.
The water board notified Lehigh officials of the fine in a letter dated April 29, stemming from an filed against Lehigh by the board in February. In that complaint, the board stated that the current storm water runoff permit held by Lehigh is inadequate; it requested that Lehigh apply for a more stringent permit.
Lehigh’s director of environmental affairs, Tim Matz, said the company did find the discharge cited in the board’s complaint and repaired it immediately. He said the sediment was coming from old, underground plumbing.
“The majority of it, we believe, was storm water,” he said. “We do believe it had minimal impact on the creek.”
Matz said the company is working with the board on acquiring a new permit and wants to pay the fine and move on.
“In order to get to that bigger issue, we want to work cooperatively with the water district on this one,” Matz said.
Lehigh operates under an Industrial Storm Water General Permit. In its Feb. 18 letter, the water board stated that, “we find that Permanente Creek is not being adequately protected under the existing permit.”
The board wants Lehigh to instead acquire a more stringent Sand and Gravel Permit, which the company has agreed to pursue, both Lehigh and board officials said.
There is a public comment period on the $10,000 fine. Members of the public can to send their comments to:
Sandia Potter, Technical Staff
Address: California Regional Water Board, San Francisco Bay Region, 1515 Clay St., Ste. 1400, Oakland, CA 94612
Other News: Significant Mercury Exposure or Not?
In related Lehigh news, the leader of a local citizen watchdog group recently told the Los Altos City Council that Lehigh’s cement plant emitted mercury in recent years beyond a trigger number requiring public notice. The charge, however, was disputed by officials from both Lehigh and the Bay Area Air Management Quality District (BAAQMD).
Bill Almon of Quarry No made his claims at the April 26 meeting, right before the council voted on a scope of work for an independent consultant Los Altos and Los Altos Hills want to hire to study Lehigh’s health and environmental impact on residents.
He said that based on the most recent health risk assessment report by Lehigh and submitted to the BAAQMD in March, residents in some parts of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino should have been notified of their exposure to mercury in 2008, 2009, 2010 and up to the present.
Both Lehigh's Matz and Scott Lutz, manager of the BAAQMD Toxic Evaluation Section, disagreed that the notification limit had been triggered.
In a manner of speaking, Lutz said, the state retroactively changed the methodology used to make calculations on the data. It asked Lehigh to recalculate the years in question.
In separate interviews, both Matz and Lutz said the March report used new assessment calculations that changed some emission results, but that it in no way means notification was required now, or that the public was at risk.
“There were a couple of changes made between the last health risk assessment submittal and this one, and when you retroactively apply, it may raise some concerns,” Matz said. “We want to assure the residents that based on this latest data, we remain within compliance … there’s no significant health risk to the community.”
Lutz said the state is in the process of revising how calculations are made; the company was asked to use the new calculations to look at data from recent years. The results give BAAQMD an evolutionary picture of what the company is doing to reduce emissions, he said.
Equipment installed by Lehigh last year helped reduce mercury emissions, Lutz said, and new activated carbon injection equipment the company is expected to install this spring will reduce emissions even more, well below state-mandated reporting levels.
In the meantime, the Los Altos City Council action on April 26 set in motion hiring an independent consultant, to be jointly paid by Los Altos and Los Altos Hills up to a total of $25,000. An ad hoc committee earlier this year wants to hire the consultant as soon as possible, so that he or she can participate in a public hearing with BAAQMD and other regulatory officials, possibly in June.
According to the committee, it wants to hire an expert who has no previous ties to either Lehigh, or Santa Clara County, the lead regulatory agency that oversees the company's mining activities.
Some of the tasks to be completed by a consultant include:
- Survey of publicly available documents describing basic processes at the quarry and cement plant that result in the potential release of pollutants.
- Survey of compliance actions taken by regulatory agencies.
- Assessment of Lehigh’s air and water quality data submitted to BAAQMD and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.
- Comment/evaluate effectiveness of BAAQMD’s Monta Vista air monitoring station and whether another station in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills would be necessary.
- Water sampling from Permanente Creek.
- Render an opinion on whether there is a health risk to residents of Los Altos or Los Altos Hills based on available data.