Neighbors Against Mining Letter to FL DEP

August 7, 2015

CEMEX Comments

Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.

Neighbors Against Mining Project

222 East Liberty Street

Brooksville, Florida 34601

 

August 7, 2015

 

David Read, Environmental Administrator

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Division of Air Resource Management, Office of Permitting and Compliance

2600 Blair Stone Road, MS #5505

Tallahassee, FL 32399-2400

 

Via mal to address above and email to david.read@dep.state.fl.us

Re: Draft/Proposed permit # 0530021-054-AV CEMEX Construction Materials Florida, LLC, Brooksville, Florida.

 

Dear Mr. Read:

These comments are submitted to you on behalf of the Neighbors Against Mining Project of Nature Coast Conservation, Inc., a Florida not for profit corporation dedicated to protecting biodiversity, conserving natural resources and protecting the oceans, lands and wildlife of the United States from our headquarters in Brooksville, Florida.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has published its intent to issue a revised permit for the Title V Air Operation Permit for the CEMEX Brooksville South Cement Plant.

We oppose issuance of this permit for the CEMEX South Brooksville Plant to allow the continued use of the obsolete coal burning plant at this facility and respectfully request that the Department hold a public hearing for this Title V (major source) air operating permit. Since the permit is needed to begin work on air pollution control equipment, a public hearing is requested to offer the public an opportunity to learn how we will be protected going forward from additional mercury and other aerial pollutant violations. We ask the state to seriously consider the alternative of requiring that CEMEX retire the coal-burning and biomass plant and the use of other contaminants such as tires for fuel at this plant based on the previous record of blatant continuing violations and the repeated failure to report violations at this location and the very remote possibility that this aged plant can meet the new standards.

This obsolete coal burning plant has been cited for mercury emissions that exceed air quality standards on numerous occasions and threatens the public health of everyone in Brooksville and our environment. Cleaner technologies are being embraced by companies all over America; why allow this one to continue to operate despite so many past violations? CEMEX should be required to demonstrate that they can meet the new emissions standards prior to issuing the permit.

The CEMEX Brooksville Cement plant violated air quality standards for mercury emissions in August 2013, but came back into compliance in September 2013. During this incident, CEMEX kept the plant going for a total of 80 hours–equal to 3 days, 8 hours in all– when they knew that those emissions were probably violating air pollution laws.   There is every likelihood that similar violations will occur in the future if this plant is allowed to continue to operate.

Ana Gibbs of FL DEP reported that the test report dated September 23, 2013, showed the referenced facility violated the mercury emissions limit set in the company’s permit. The allowable limit for mercury emission is 41 micrograms per day standard cubic meter, but on August 14, 2013, the reading was 52.71. The facility retested within approximately 40 days and demonstrated a return to compliance. The facility demonstrated that the violation would reasonably have been expected to have occurred for a period of approximately 80 hours. CEMEX also neglected to report the failed test in annual and semi-annual reports, as required by law.

The Consent agreement for this violation was issued in June, 2015, two years after the dangerous emission. We do not have any current records indicating whether additional violations have occurred since then. FDEP imposed a fine of just twenty three hundred dollars for this egregious, intentional and harmful continuing violation and despite the fact that CEMEX also failed to properly report this violation, as required by law. Exposure to even small amounts of mercury can have major public health impacts.

Since the Consent Order was issued, questions remain. Why was the violation allowed to continue for 80 hours and why did it take a month for it to come back into compliance? Why has it taken two years for a Consent Order to be issued?   Has FDEP evaluated the impact of those emissions on our community?   Besides the $2,300 fine, what has the state done or what can it do to assure our community that this mercury is properly cleaned up?

Equally as important going forward, how is the state ensuring that the local communities are protected from toxic mercury emissions? How does the new permit provide assurances that emissions exceeding air quality standards will not occur again, even with the installation of a continuous emission monitoring system? Who monitors the emissions? Will violations be promptly reported and acted upon? How can we as a community track and confirm that there will be no further mercury violations?   How can we access real time monitoring results and learn what is being done to address violations if they do occur? Parrot Middle School is in close proximity to this plant and even has monitors on site to track emissions that students there are being exposed to every day.

Prior to the 2013 violations, CEMEX paid over a million dollars for 18 air quality violations at this plant that occurred from 2001 to 2011. Rather than retire the obsolete coal-burning plant, CEMEX was allowed to add wood to the fuel mix to reduce harmful emissions and prevent ongoing violations.   We understand that the plant is also using tires as fuel.   In addition, it has received many truckloads of sludge from TECO that has been tested for fuel but found inappropriate.   FL-DEP has allowed this sludge to be stored on the grounds of this plant with a berm and cover considered adequate containment. The biomass used includes local camphor trees that are a known irritant that triggers asthma when burned.

Earlier this summer, a wildfire on CEMEX lands near this plant raised concerns that the toxic sludge may have been part of the month-long fire that generated smoke and irritated residents of the area with respiratory health conditions.  There were weeks when the smoke drifted onto the adjacent road near the plant. The Fire Marshall identified it as a muck fire that could not be accessed nor controlled.   Has the state allowed our county to become a dumping site as well as home to one of the oldest coal burning plants in America?

Within a 3-mile radius of this obsolete coal-burning plant live more than 7,100 people, with the county seat of Brooksville located nearby. According to the EPA Environmental Justice Site Demographics, published by Clean Water Action Florida in 2012, 17.1% of the residents within the 3-mile radius live below the poverty level and 12.2% of them are classified as minorities. Some are retirees and others still-employed residents, many with children who have invested life earnings in homes here.

In addition to the health threat, the mining operations have reduced their property values. Last year, CEMEX sought approval to mine 738 acres in the immediate area for the next 20 years, which failed to be approved by the county commission after hundreds of citizens organized to oppose it. By providing a major source of newly-available lime rock to mine, this would have had the effect of extending the life of the coal-burning plant.   However, there is no demand for the lime rock and CEMEX has been using only one kiln for the past few years due to reduced demand. Nonetheless, citizens fully expect CEMEX to seek approval for the mine again after the 2016 elections. We hope that the state will de-incentivize the financial rewards for continuing to use the coal burning plant for existing and new sources of lime rock by requiring that it be updated to a cleaner source of energy than coal or closed to protect the residents.

Asthma rates in Hernando County are among the highest in the state with no other major source of air pollution in the area and an absence of heavy vehicular traffic, other than cement trucks. The 2013 Burden of Asthma report by the Florida Health Department noted that Hernando ranks 3rd highest in the state for Current Adolescent Asthma and 6th highest for Lifetime Adult Asthma. How will the new permit protect residents who are greatly concerned with the impacts to our health and environment that the continued operation of this plant presents from mercury and other toxic air emissions?

Nature Coast Conservation, Neighbors Against Mining Project learned of the 2013 violation several months ago and submitted comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on May 22, 2015. We reported three areas of concern and were unable to actually reach a spokesperson to resolve them prior to release of the Consent Order. It was a month later that we received the finalized Consent Order from Ana Gibbs of FL-DEP Public Affairs.

We are still concerned with the following items noted in that earlier statement:

“Coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and pollute the air with nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, mercury emissions and other harmful pollutants as well. This is the primary cause of global warming, a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution, and takes a major toll on public health and the environment according to the Union of Concerned Scientists and others. (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html#.VV-TgLNFDIV) 

The burning of biomass such as the wood used at the Brooksville Plant, is widely mistaken to be clean. In fact, biomass plants produce nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-burning plants and more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide and volatile organic matter as coal plants. Worsening the problem, many plants use contaminated waste wood, including paint-coated construction debris, all the while professing to be clean and green, according to the Partnership for Public Integrity report published last year. (http://grist.org/news/whats-worse-than-burning-coal-burning-wood/). FL-DEP should never have allowed the raw mill to be added to this plant as part of the 2011 settlement. Knowing what we do now about the air quality consequences of a raw mill, DEP should re-consider allowing it to supplement the fuel mix at this cement plant. 

CEMEX officials met with Hernando County Commissioners about the 2013 incident and released a press statement that is factually inaccurate and blatantly misleading.   CEMEX stated that “The consent decree was issued in regards to an administrative error made by CEMEX in 2014. At no time was CEMEX out of compliance with environmental emissions or operational limits. The health and safety of the local community or our employees was at no time threatened. All emission rates remained well below federal guidelines and Florida permit limits.”   Compare that to the facts provided by the state and it is obvious that CEMEX misrepresented this latest incident to local residents and county leaders. This reinforces our lack of trust in CEMEX, a foreign corporation that can well afford to be responsible and upgrade its Hernando County facilities to meet state pollution laws so that no more violations of this nature occur that threaten public health. “

Concerned citizens in the community want to learn about exposure to mercury and other pollution from the CEMEX South Brooksville plant and the state plans to help and protect our community.   We request a public hearing so that the state can explain what steps are being taken and if they will insure our health and environmental safety, prior to issuing this proposed permit.

At a time when many communities are seeking to reduce their dependence on dirty coal, CEMEX and FL DEP are insuring that we will be subject to up to 200 pounds per year of mercury emissions by law and potentially much greater amounts from future violations, if past performance is any indicator.

Allowing CEMEX to continue to operate the cement plant in a manner that can easily lead to future violations of the same nature fails to insure that you are protecting the public health of Hernando residents and insuring clean air in our environment when the technical ability to do so is readily available. This coal-burning plant and raw mill should be shut down and the CEMEX Cement plant either upgraded with newer technology or abandoned.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments. Please do not hesitate to contact us at justsaynotomining@gmail.com or call 352 277-3330.

 

Very truly yours,

DeeVon Quirolo

DeeVon Quirolo

President, Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.,

Neighbors Against Mining Project

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