Mercury released by cement plant center of DEQ investigation

Mercury released by cement plant center of DEQ investigation
Published: 14 November 2006

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is keeping a close eye on the results of tests from a cement plant that was found to be releasing two to three times more mercury into the air than previously reported.

The Ash Grove Cement Plant, located in Durkee, Oregon, is just miles from the Idaho border.

In early August, the plant and the Oregon DEQ reported a discrepancy in the amount of mercury emitted from the plant. Senior Environmental Engineer Patty Jacobs caught the mistake.

"I could not match my results with their results," she tells CBS 2 News.

Ash Grove says they mistakenly used an older, incorrect set of numbers to calculate the emissions. Jacobs had the new, correct numbers.

"The new numbers are potentially alarming because they are much higher than originally reported, but because a source test is a snapshot in time. We need to do more investigation," she says.

There are no state or federal regulations limiting mercury emissions from cement plants.

The DEQ has asked Ash Grove to conduct additional tests to learn more about the type of mercury being released. There are multiple types of mercury. Some just go into the atmosphere. Others work their way into waterways, and into the food chain, putting human health at risk.

"We have no evidence indicating there is any hazard posed to anyone in the community, near the community, or downwind," Tom Wood, an attorney for Ash Grove, tells CBS 2 News.

The plant has agreed to additional testing in December.Wood says that’s just one example of the company exceeding their environmental responsibilities.

"They are a company that’s very concerned about the environment," he says.

The plant donates tens of thousands of dollars to local charities, according to the plant manager.Wood says the company has a lot invested in the community and has no reason to put it at risk.

However, several environmental groups, including the Oregon Center for Environmental Health, disagree.

"This is an extremely important environmental and public health issue," Director Jane Harris tells CBS 2 News.

Harris is concerned the type of mercury being released by Ash Grove is harmful. She’s pushing for the government to establish regulations on mercury emissions.

"I suspect people living near the plant have no idea the plant is emitting huge amounts of mercury into the air," she says.

The Idaho DEQ says they are closely monitoring the situation.They’re in the middle of conducting a study examining mercury in fish tissue to determine how much is in the food chain.

"What Treasure Valley residents should be assured is that the DEQ is watching this as we are accessing mercury across the state," Robert Wilkosz tells CBS 2 News.