Mercury Emissions Drastically Reduced With Installation of New System, Lehigh Officials Announce

Local leaders praise the company for its innovation, and for meeting EPA deadline by more than two years.

A new system to reduce mercury emissions from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant by 90 percent is working and already dramatically cutting mercury output after one month of operation, Lehigh officials announced this morning.

The reduction comes more than two years before an EPA deadline for all cement plants to reduce mercury emissions to 55 pounds per year or less. Lehigh officials said the new equipment, along with equipment installed last year that reduced emissions by 25 percent, helps put the plant’s emissions below that limit.

“We are the first cement plant in California using this progressive technology to proactively reduce our mercury emissions, and we’re among the first in the nation to use this technology,” said Plant Manager Henrik Wesseling at a press conference in Cupertino.

Wesseling said the company installed an activated carbon injection system at the end of April. After one month of operation starting May 1, testing showed that mercury had already been reduced by 90 percent.

Lehigh’s president of Western operations, Kari Saragusa, said the company, while part of a larger company, Heidelberg Cement Group, wants to “act like a little company by being good neighbors.” He said installing the equipment before the EPA deadline is “the right and prudent thing to do.”

On hand to praise Lehigh were Santa Clara County Fifth District Supervisor Liz Kniss and Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong. Both applauded the company for using innovative technology to reduce mercury.

“We are really all about our environment and maintaining the quality of that environment in this county. I think it is very fitting we’re hear to announce two years early that Lehigh has met (the EPA) standards,” Kniss said.

Wong said the city works long and hard to make sure residents’ safety is “the overriding consideration for our regulators. We are pleased that Lehigh has once again proven to be a leader and has proactively implemented technologies that will allow them to safely continue to serve the needs of Silicon Valley.”

Not on hand: Cupertino City Councilmember Barry Chang, one of the founders of No Toxic Air who against both Lehigh and Kniss, as part of the Board of Supervisors, for the in favor of Lehigh’s vested rights to mining most of its quarry lands.

Also not at the conference were representatives from Los Altos or Los Altos Hills, which over the last several months have shown in possible public health and environmental effects. Public Relations Manager and former Cupertino Mayor Sandra James said Lehigh officials plan on attending a public meeting sponsored by an ad hoc committee of the two city councils on Monday at 6 p.m., at the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 Fremont Rd.

James said the company was not asked to give a presentation, but Wesseling hopes to address the gathering from the floor. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) officials and members of the ad hoc committee will speak, as well as answer public questions.

Today Wesseling told reporters that the new system works by injecting specially treated carbon particles into the ducts of the plant, where mercury flows after having been detached from limestone heated up as part of the cement-making process. The mercury attaches itself to the carbon, which then cannot pass through fabric filter dust collectors at the base of each stack. The mercury and carbon are dropped into the cement mill, which “locks” it into the finished cement.

Next will be the installation of a continuous monitoring system within three months, so that the company can have real-time test results showing mercury output, Wesseling said.

Lehigh officials would not say how much the system cost them to purchase and install, citing the need to keep some competitive industry information private. 

Ignatius Y. Ding June 05, 2011 at 03:54 AM
Wolf in Sheepskin Blowing Smoke Councilman Barry Chang is absolutely right. We might believe the made-for-press claim by Lehigh Cement that it has cut its 100-year long mercury pollution by 90% once we see the scientific proof validated by the federal EPA. The track records of this Northern California’s largest stationary polluter do not lend much credibility to whatever it says to the public. Besides, this is just one deadly toxic waste among 150 chemicals released by Lehigh into water and air in our neighborhood as it still burns industrial waste, i.e. petroleum coke, as fuel in its kilns day-in and day-out all year around. It is just mindboggling that Cupertino mayor Wong would refer to Lehigh as good neighbor and leader in safety. He has shamelessly stated that “the city works long and hard to make sure residents’ safety is the overriding consideration for our regulators.” We all know that the city councilmembers, except Barry Chang, have persistently declined to address the pollution issues for years on the ground that the city has no jurisdiction over a company located in the unincorporated area despite the fact that the polluted water and air poison residents in Cupertino and adjacent cities. Politicians in County and cities must wake up. The number of volunteers and activists against the polluting culprit grows by the hundreds each quarter. Soon enough those who are in bed with the bad guys will be driven from offices for good. That is a promise.
Jamie Sanders June 06, 2011 at 10:14 AM
Note that the EPA reductions for mercury are a goal, not a requirement. If Lehigh can’t figure out a way to achieve the goal, it will be too bad for us. Our local limestone has some of the greatest mercury in the nation and the EPA recommends against using it – unfortunately they’re not in a position to prohibit it: “The most effective pollution prevention approach to addressing mercury emissions from cement kilns is to avoid using raw materials with elevated mercury content.” BAAQMD is consistently upping the numbers, from initially 300 or so pounds of mercury to nearly 1300 lbs in 2005 (14 times the new EPA recommendation). The public is not being adequately informed.
Jamie Sanders June 06, 2011 at 10:19 AM
Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong has claimed Lehigh's leadership in safety. Perhaps he has missed the United States Department of Labor Report from MSHA, which singled out the Hansen Permanente quarry (Lehigh Southwest / Heidelberg Cement), with 185 citations and 21 orders in 2010, as a surface mine that considers egregious violation records as a cost of doing business. Cupertino mayor Wong is following in the misguided footsteps of former council members Sandra James and Barbara Koppel who have been employed by the Cupertino Cement Plant, the number one Mercury polluter in the Bay Area. Tangentially, in 1986, Koppel lost her bid for county supervisor amidst a fundraising scandal for not properly reporting contributions from her former employer and from former Assemblyman and current company advisor Jim Cuneen. And in 1985 defying county counsel’s recommendation, the FPPC (State of California Fair Political Practices Committee) muzzled county supervisor (and company executive) Legan for a conflict of interest that would benefit his employer. Unfortunately, the political connections with this facility run long and deep.


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