BALTIMORE, MD (August 10, 2009) – The Maryland Department of the Environment today announced two significant actions to reduce mercury and resolve alleged particulate emission violations at Lehigh Cement Company’s Union Bridge plant in Carroll County. MDE entered into a voluntary agreement with Lehigh Cement that requires Lehigh to modify operations at the Union Bridge plant and install pollution controls to achieve mercury emission reductions in advance of federal mercury emission limitations for portland cement plants expected to take effect in March 2013. In a separate action resolving an enforcement action for alleged violations of particulate emission standards set by permit, Lehigh agreed to pay a $202,500 penalty and implement corrective actions designed to prevent future violations.
Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said: “Enforcing our existing environmental laws remains MDE’s number one priority to protect our air, land, and water, as well as public health. In addition, we continue to work to find ways that Maryland industries can voluntarily reduce their pollution.”
On August 5, 2009, MDE filed a Complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court alleging that between April and July 2007, Lehigh exceeded particulate matter emission limits applicable to its Union Bridge plant cement kiln and clinker cooler stacks. Along with the Complaint, MDE filed a motion asking the court to enter a Consent Decree in resolution of the Complaint. The Consent Decree will take effect when entered by the court. The Consent Decree requires corrective actions designed to prevent future violations, including more frequent stack-testing and weekly inspections of pollution control equipment that prevents particulate matter from escaping into the air. The Consent Decree also requires Lehigh to pay a $202,500 penalty, as well as stipulated penalties for any future violations of the corrective action requirements in the Consent Decree.
Particulate matter, which can consist of airborne solid particles or liquid droplets, is a significant public health concern. Particles small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs can cause several cardiopulmonary health problems and can aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
In a separate matter, Lehigh has agreed to install and operate equipment to reduce mercury pollution no later than March 2012, one year ahead of expected federal requirements. The mercury controls are expected to reduce mercury emissions from the Union Bridge plant by approximately 80 percent from current levels -- from nearly 400 pounds per year to 86 pounds per year. In the interim, Lehigh has agreed to modify its operation to reduce mercury emissions by approximately 92 pounds per year and to evaluate further operational changes that could result in additional reductions. The agreement will also allow the plant to use treated dried sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, in its fuel mix. Sewage sludge is one of the final byproducts from the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal that bioaccumulates in fish and poses a health risk from fish consumption. Coal-fired power plants and portland cement plants are among the largest sources of mercury emissions. The reductions from Lehigh, coupled with the mercury emission reductions the Healthy Air Act requires from the State’s coal-fired power plants commencing in January 2010, will reduce Maryland’s annual statewide emissions of mercury from nearly 2,500 pounds to approximately 600 pounds.
“Until more stringent federal requirements are in place, MDE has been proactively looking for every opportunity to reduce mercury emissions from all sources in the State,” continued Secretary Wilson. “Reducing mercury in our environment is important to protect the health of all Marylanders. Ten species of fish are subject to mercury consumption advisories in our State, so we must take every step we can to address this situation.”