A pair of cement manufacturing companies have agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties and invest millions of dollars in pollution control technology to settle a federal air emissions violations lawsuit.
Lehigh Cement Company LLC and Lehigh White Cement Company LLC agreed to pay a $1.3 million civil penalty and invest about $12 million in pollution control technology at 11 cement manufacturing plants, including one located in Mitchell, Indiana.
The settlement amount includes $69,265 for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s “Environmental Management Special Fund.”
Federal prosecutors alleged that the companies failed to obtain pre-construction permits and install nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide control technology for major modifications at its plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said those emissions resulted in “significant emissions increases” and were violations of the Clean Air Act.
The settlement allows the companies to resolve the allegations without admitting guilt or liability.
“This settlement with Lehigh and Lehigh White will significantly reduce harmful air emissions at their cement plants nationwide,” said Bruce Gelber, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The settlement is a product of the federal government’s close work with state and local agencies, who all share the goal of improving air quality in their regions in compliance with state and federal laws.”
The plants in the lawsuit manufactured Portland cement, the basic ingredient in concrete. They mixed ingredients like limestone and shells with shale, clay, blast furnace slag, silica sand and iron ore. When heated at high temperatures, the ingredients form a rock-like substance that is then ground into a fine powder known as cement.
Although usefulness of cement and its ubiquity is unquestioned, the processes used to manufacture cement cause massive amounts of pollution.
The cement industry is the third largest industrial source of pollution, emitting more than 500,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide per year, according to the EPA.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can affect breathing and aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular health conditions. The gas is a primary contributor to acid rain.
Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to organs and tissue in the body and can lead to death.
Not only is the cement manufacturing process toxic, so is its final product. Exposure to Portland cement can cause serious chemical burns, eye damage, lung irritation and even cancer. Concrete is safe to handle in its solid form.
EPA records show that the state of Indiana has imposed financial penalties on Lehigh’s Mitchell Cement Plant and Terminal on at least five different occasions. The company has had to pay a total of $86,313 in the last five years for Clean Air Act violations, specifically particulate matter emissions violations.
The current settlement has not been finalized, but in its current form would give Lehigh eight months to make a choice about the plant’s future. The company can replace three old kilns with a new, cleaner-burning kiln at the plant, or it can keep the old kilns if it installs nitrogen oxide control technology.
The timeline for that decision may just be a technicality. The Mitchell plant's future was decided more than a year before the final settlement's contents were revealed.
Lehigh Cement Company LLC is owned by Lehigh Hanson, which owns five cement manufacturing plants in Indiana and eight quarries. Lehigh Hanson is itself a subsidiary of a German multinational building materials group, HeidelbergCement.
In July 2018, more than a year before the settlement was announced, Lehigh Hanson, introduced plans to build a new Lehigh Cement Company in Mitchell with specifications almost identical to what the settlement would eventually demand.
The new plants would include one new kiln to replace three current kilns.
The four-year project would require more than 1,000 construction workers, and would create 50 new full-time jobs.
During the company’s pursuit of permits for the new plant, hopeful Mitchell city officials wrote glowing letters of recommendation for the company.
Mitchell mayor John D. England, Jr. wrote about the obvious economic and environmental benefits of the proposed plant.
“The new cement plant will enable Lehigh to produce cement more efficiently and sustainably through the use of state-of-the-art technology and the latest in environmental controls and systems,” he wrote in June.
Mitchell city attorney Byron Steele also expressed the highest hopes in his own letter of recommendation.
“As a resident of this area, and as City Attorney for the City of Mitchell, Indiana, I am quite aware of the proposed expansion and do not see how this could possibly have a negative effect on our environment,” Steele wrote. “I urge that IDEM approve this expansion. Its value to this country is great. They are a responsible corporate citizen.”
The company broke ground on the new facility October 8 in a ceremony attended by company representatives, U.S. Senator Mike Braun, Rep. Trey Hollingsworth and the chief operating officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Chris W. Cotterill.
“Today, we are celebrating the start of a new legacy. With this ceremonial groundbreaking, we are beginning a journey to transform our business in Mitchell,” said Lehigh Hanson’s north region president Dennis Dolan. “This journey promises good things for all of us. A new state-of-the-art cement plant for Lehigh Hanson and our employees. And, new jobs, economic growth and opportunity to Mitchell, Lawrence County and the State of Indiana.”
The public will be able to submit opinions and comments on the settlement agreement for 30 days once it has been published in the Federal Register. It will be available for viewing here.