Mercury Rising

by Keith T. Barber

On April 21, 2008, the New Hanover County Commissioners passed a resolution to grant a $4.2 million economic incentive package to Titan America LLC to build a cement manufacturing plant in Castle Hayne.

The vote was not unanimous. Chairman Bobby Greer, Bill Caster, Bill Kopp and Ted Davis voted for the measure, while Nancy Pritchett opposed it. On July 1, after a contentious June 2 public forum on the issue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) held a public scoping meeting at Wilmington Christian Academy to allow public input on the proposed cement plant.

Henry Wicker of the Corps of Engineers reiterated for the nearly 200 New Hanover County residents in attendance that the Carolinas Cement Company (CCC), a subsidiary of Titan America, is proposing to build a cement plant and limestone quarry on the former site of Ideal Cement Company a 1,868-acre tract on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River which closed down in 1982. The site slated for development includes approximately 600 acres of pristine wetlands. Wicker emphasized that the Corps of Engineers is a neutral player in the permitting process.

Were not for a project or against it. We just try to let the process work itself out, Wicker said.

The scope of the Corps of Engineers work is limited to permitting for wetlands and waterways. The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (NCDAQ) will determine whether Titans permit application to pump up to 263 pounds of mercury into the atmosphere annually will be approved or denied. The NCDAQ enforces state and federal air pollution regulations, including the Clean Air Act.

Greer and Caster say the fate of the CCC is now in the hands of the Corps of Engineers and NCDAQ. The corps says the environmental impact statement will take 18 months to two years to complete.

Weve made an offer to Titan to invite them to come here as long as they can meet all the environmental standards and criteria that have to be met, Greer said. So yes, were relying on those other folks to make those decisions for us, to tell us its OK or not OK. If its not OK, I certainly dont want anything thats going to harm the area.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo echoed Greer and Casters sentiments, deferring to the expertise of state and federal regulators.

Every citizen in this county who has a concern about Titan Cement, their concerns should be addressed to the letter of the law, Saffo said. Weve been working for 20 to 30 years to develop laws to protect the environment. If Titan meets those standards, they have a right to build. If they dont meet those standards, they shouldnt build no matter what.

Cape Fear Riverkeeper Doug Springer will serve on the Corps of Engineers project review team. Springer characterizes the attitudes expressed by Greer, Caster and Saffo as essentially an abdication of their responsibilities as public servants.

Government leaders have to understand they cant just turn it over to a state agency or a federal agency, Springer said. Their job is to ask the hard questions. If they dont do that, this is what happens.

Springers assertion is underscored by a February ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys (EPAs) 2005 Clean Air Mercury Rule violates the Clean Air Act by evading mandatory cuts in toxic mercury pollution from power plants that burn coal and oil. Clearly, the citizens of New Hanover County cant expect the federal government to look out for their best interests when it comes to protecting their environment, Springer contends.

How is cement made?

The terms cement and concrete, though often interchanged, are in actuality very different things. Cement is an ingredient in the production of concrete and comprises slightly more than 10 percent of any concrete mix.

The primary ingredient in cement is limestone, which is taken from large open-pit mines, crushed to the size of gravel and blended with other ingredients like clay, sand and fly ash (the solid waste left after burning coal). Both limestone and fly ash are sources of mercury.

As the blended raw materials approach the intense heat of the cement kiln25 percent as hot as the suns surface they are turned into clinker, marble-sized pellets and sand-sized particles, sending mercury and a host of other pollutants up the smokestack and into the air. The clinker is removed from the kiln, cooled, finished and ground for bagging.

Cement kiln dust (CKD), the fine-grained, solid, highly alkaline waste removed from the kiln exhaust gas by air pollution control devices, is either returned to the production process or disposed (typically) in land-based disposal units (i.e., landfills). CKD is categorized by EPA as a "special waste" and has been temporarily exempted from federal hazardous waste regulations. This means a manufacturer of cement can bury its special waste in a landfill either somewhere else, or here.

Mercury emissions from cement kilns originate from and are generally proportionate to the cement ingredients and fossil fuels. The fossil fuel used to generate the extreme heat of the cement kiln is often coal, a notoriously dirty fuel, and is responsible for much of a cement kilns mercury emissions.

Titan spokesperson Kate McClain confirmed the Carolinas Cement Company in Castle Hayne will utilize coal as its primary energy source in the cement manufacturing process.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; www.cementkiln.com

What's at stake?

Cement kilns pump nearly 23,000 pounds of mercury into the air annually, according to the EPAs revised Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Titan America is requesting a permit to discharge 263 pounds of mercury annually into New Hanover Countys atmosphere a significant number, made even more critical by the fact that a single teaspoon of mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake for one year. No one questions that mercury is a dangerous, powerful neurotoxin that can cause developmental problems in young and unborn children and newborns. It is a fact. The EPA estimates that 15 percent of women of childbearing age, or one out of every six, have unsafe mercury levels in their blood, and lists king mackerel, bass, pike, swordfish, albacore tuna and walleye among those species of fish that should be avoided by women who are either nursing or pregnant (for further information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/OST/fish).

A study by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reveals a multiple-digits increase in the rate of autism for every 1,000 pounds of mercury released environmentally in Texas counties (the study does not prove causation of autism by mercury, researchers are quick to point out).

The study compared mercury totals reported for 2001 in the 254 Texas counties to the rate of autism and special education services in nearly 1,200 Texas school districts. The districts, which range from urban to small metro to rural, enroll 4 million Texas children.

The main finding is that for every 1,000 pounds of environmentally released mercury, we saw a 17-percent increase in autism rates, says lead author Raymond F. Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Health Science Centers department of family and community medicine.

Titan spokesperson Kate McClain says theres no way for anyone to know if 263 pounds of mercury emitted into the atmosphere annually is too much of a burden on the areas environment. Julie Hurley vehemently disagrees.
Hurley, a Wrightsville Beach resident, says shes very concerned about the quality of the air her 3-year-old son, Jackson, will breathe in years to come. Hurley says shes researched the issue and found that New Hanover Countys air and water quality is some of the poorest in the state.

We already have a burden a burden to our public health and to our environment so this would definitely not be a fit, Hurley says. Were trying to clean it up, not pollute it further.

Joel Bourne, founder of stoptitan.org, says Hurleys genuine concerns are backed up by data from the EPA. The federal agency ranks New Hanover County No. 6 in mercury emissions out of all the counties in the state. The EPA also ranks New Hanover number one in emissions of three other pollutants sulfur dioxide, chlorine and chromium. The county ranks fifth in the state in nitrous oxide emissions, and sixth in sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions. In addition, North Carolina is one of nine states that have statewide mercury advisories in effect for coastal waters.

Springer cites the latest 303(d) report by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) as further evidence that Titan coming to Castle Hayne would only make a bad situation worse. Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires states to develop a list of waters not meeting water quality standards or which have impaired uses. The Northeast Cape Fear River, from Highway 210 to Prince Georges Creek the area where Titan proposes to build is already listed as impaired due to mercury contamination.

Behind Closed Doors

In addition to its potentially devastating environmental impact, the issue of Titan Cement coming to the area has drawn the ire of New Hanover County residents because of the secretive way the $4.2 million incentive was handled by the county commissioners, Bourne says.

There was an immense frustration with our county government and the county commissioners over several things, and I think Titan was the straw that broke the camels back. People were just furious that this was done in secret and they had no participation or input in the process, Bourne adds.

Limestone mining = aquifer contamination?

A case study of Titans Florida operation

In 2003, the Sierra Club and a coalition of organizations devoted to environmental protection sued the Army Corps of Engineers in federal court in the District of Columbia, charging the Army had issued permits to conduct rock mining in the Florida Everglades without conducting proper studies of the environmental impact. When several of Floridas largest rock mining companies intervened, including Tarmac America, a subsidiary of Titan America LLC, the case was transferred to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Although the case originally focused on threats to wildlife, the environmental groups later argued the blasting material used by the miners to break up limestone deposits in the rock pits produces benzene, a known carcinogen, and this could pollute the Biscayne aquifer and wells that furnish much of the drinking water of Miami-Dade County residents.

The Sierra Clubs claims were bolstered by a 2005 investigation by the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department in which the department discovered one of its wells registered benzene levels five times greater than the limit established by the EPA. The departments investigation revealed a link between underwater blasting and benzene contamination. In July 2007, U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler ruled in the plaintiffs favor, vacating the rock miners permit and ordering the three companies closest to the wells Florida Rock, White Rock and Titan subsidiary Tarmac America to halt mining in the area.

On June 2, Greer, Caster and the other county commissioners got an earful from more than 350 concerned citizens who crammed inside the historic New Hanover County Courthouse on Third Street during a public hearing on the issue.

It really let (the commissioners) know people are not going to take it anymore, Bourne says.

Clifton Cash, founder of Green Coast Recycling, attended the forum to propose a different path for the countys future. Cash suggested that a better use of the $4.2 million of taxpayer money would be to incentivize an environmental cleanup company to come to the area. Such a company could help make New Hanover Countys air and water among the best in the state, and might create more than 161 new jobs the number of jobs Titan is promising to bring to the area.

I think its a classic case of capitalism versus citizenship they dont have to be at odds with each other. We can have both, Cash says.

Furthermore, UNCW professor Craig Galbraith of the Cameron School of Business contends that Titans claim of creating 161 new jobs is highly suspect. However, Titans new job numbers are supported by Dr. Woody Hall, senior economist at the UNCW Center for Business and Economic Services. During the public hearing, Galbraith said his research indicated Titan would create only 46 new jobs and economic studies show that low-technology industries, like cement plants, result in an overall decrease in higher-tech employment, consumer spending and economic activity. A sort of brain drain is created by the exodus of higher-tech businesses and people.
Any chance for the citizens of New Hanover County to be involved in the process of recruiting a nonpolluting, high-technology industry to the area evaporated a long time ago. Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Industrial Development (WID), otherwise known as the Committee of 100, says negotiations to bring Titan to the area actually began in 2005, after the organization received a lead from North Carolinas Southeast an economic development marketing organization based in Elizabethtown.

Satterfield says WID members are often bound by confidentiality agreements during negotiations with industry, but McClain said that to her knowledge, Committee of 100 members were not asked by Titan to sign any such agreements. So, the question remains: Why was the public excluded from the process?
Titan has made very little effort to conceal the fact it plans to move forward with construction of a cement plant and limestone mining operation on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. In a 2005 interview with Titan CEO Aris Papadopoulos in Cement Americas magazine, Papadopoulos confirmed the Greece-based company had been considering building a plant in Castle Hayne for nearly two decades. In March 2007, Papadopoulos announced Titan had acquired S&W Ready Mix Concrete Company with its 26 locations in North and South Carolina. Papadopoulos told Business Wire magazine the move to acquire S&W greatly accelerates our recently announced concrete expansion program in coastal North Carolina.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 New Hanover Countys ranking among 100 North Carolina counties for emissions of chromium, carbon monoxide and chlorine.

4 The proposed Titan Cement plant would be the fourth largest in the U.S.

6 New Hanover Countys ranking among 100 North Carolina counties for emissions of mercury, arsenic and hydrochloric acid.

15 Percentage of women of childbearing age with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, according to EPA estimates.

263 Pounds of mercury permitted to be pumped into the atmosphere annually by Carolinas Cement Company, the subsidiary of Titan America LLC, to be built on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

23,000 Pounds of mercury cement kilns in the U.S. discharge annually into the atmosphere, according to the EPAs Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

1,400 Number of students to attend a new elementary school and middle school on Holly Shelter Road (within two miles of the proposed Titan Cement plant).

600 Acres of pristine wetlands to be impacted by Titans limestone mining operations.

4.2 million New Hanover County taxpayer dollars offered to Titan America LLC as part of an economic incentive package to bring the cement giant to Castle Hayne.

300,000 Dollar amount of One North Carolina Fund grant given to Titan America LLC as part of Governor Mike Easleys economic incentive package.

450 million Estimated total dollar amount of Titan investment in cement plant.

161 Number of new jobs Titan claims it will bring to area.

46 UNCW professor of technology, entrepreneurship and corporate strategy Craig Galbraiths estimate of the net jobs Titan will actually create.

In addition, even though the permitting process is 18 months to 2 years out, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Web site reveals that CSX Railroad is already constructing a new spur track at the site of the proposed Carolinas Cement Company. It is clear Titan is investing millions of dollars in infrastructure, but
its no guarantee their environmental permits will be approved, Satterfield says.

Caster denies Titan was given any assurances by county officials regarding the permitting process.
We dont permit them, Caster says. The feds and the state agencies permit them. Whether we think its a good deal economically, its got to go through the permitting process, which isnt us.

But it is clear that Titan is working hard to gain every possible advantage in the process. McClain confirmed that Titan retained the services of John Merritt, a former policy advisor to Governor Mike Easley and a Committee of 100 member, in January of 2008. While Titan has been working hard behind the scenes, the company has not done itself any favors on the public relations front. Their last-minute decision to pull out of a public forum at UNCW in June and another public forum on August 12 was met with harsh criticism.

It was turning into a situation that was not going to be advantageous for us, McClain said. We didnt feel as though we were going to be seen in a positive light.

State Rep. Danny McComas says Titan officials have done a very poor job of public relations to date, and pulling out of the UNCW forum revealed the companys unwillingness to making the process as transparent as possible.

A Way Forward

With the wheels already in motion, and the public feeling excluded from the decision-making process, State Senator Julia Boseman proposes to stop Titan in its tracks. Boseman says shes crafted legislation that would prohibit the state from issuing a permit for any industry wishing to locate within five miles of any school or within two miles of conservation land, and she hopes to introduce the legislation during the next session of the General Assembly.

The proposed Carolinas Cement Company would be within five miles of three area schools, including a new elementary and middle school currently under construction on Holly Shelter Road approximately two miles from the cement plant. The elementary school will come on line in August 2009, and the middle school will begin operation in August 2010. The two schools will eventually house 1,400 students, says Sarah Clinton of New Hanover County Schools. In addition, the state has identified the Northeast Cape Fear River as a natural heritage area.

Boseman says she attempted to introduce the bill during the legislatures summer session, but realized that Titan had Governor Mike Easleys support, and it would have been an uphill battle. In May, Governor Easley announced Titan America would receive a $300,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund in addition to the $4.2 million it will get from New Hanover County taxpayers. In November, North Carolina voters will elect a new governor.

My approach is to not just slow it down but stop it, and come January, kill it altogether, Boseman says. If the state agencies havent killed it already, my plan is to come back and kill it legislatively.

I am adamantly opposed to Titan coming here. I think its an environmental nightmare, Boseman says. I dont know anyone whos for it except for the county commissioners, Titan and the governors office ... I dont see anything good about it.

"Every citizen in this county who has a concern about Titan Cement, their concerns should be addressed to the letter of the law."

Bill Saffo, Wilmington Mayor

"[County commissioners] were giving away tax dollars when the budget was $7 million in the hole. And it came right on the heels of this sewer debacle as well as some issues with the airport, so people were just livid. They were like, Its enough, its enough."

Joel Bourne, founder, stoptitan.org

"My approach is to not just slow it down but stop it, and come January, kill it altogether. If the state agencies havent killed it already, my plan is to come back and kill it legislatively."

State Senator Julia Boseman

"We didnt give the public any opportunity to address what it would like to do with this whole Holly Shelter corridor. We couldve come in here and said, Hey, lets clean this up and make it our own state park. Lets put our reservoirs in here and make it residential. We never even had that discussion even though theres been this planning effort in Castle Hayne for years."

Doug Springer, Cape Fear Riverkeeper

State Rep. Carolyn Justice says her constituents in New Hanover and Pender counties are also very concerned about Titan Cement coming to Castle Hayne, but she does not support legislation that singles out a particular company.

State Rep. Sandra Spaulding Hughes says she met with Marino Papazoglou, director of business development for Titan America, after she was bombarded with dozens of emails and letters from her Castle Hayne constituents regarding their grave concerns about the plants environmental impact.

I let him know that my constituents are not satisfied, Hughes said. I think the county, the state and the EPA should take another look at it. If it pollutes our county, I dont care if it employs a thousand people.

Hughes says she urged Papazoglou to meet directly with New Hanover Countys elected officials to address their concerns. Rep. McComas said he met with Titan officials and shared his thoughts on the communitys priorities.
We have to weigh everything in the context of whats best for the community. It would be nice if we could get some employment, but at what cost? McComas said.

U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre declined, when asked in person, to comment on the matter.

David McCallum, a Castle Hayne resident, served as a chemical operator for Diamond Shamrock and Occidental Chemical two industries located on the Northeast Cape Fear River for 24 years. He knows something about the environmental impact of cement factories and limestone quarries on area watersheds. McCallum tested the waters of the Northeast Cape Fear daily, checking for chromium contamination while working for Occidental. He points out that the USACEs scoping process is based on a best-case scenario and doesnt take into account natural disasters.

McCallum raises the specter of a major hurricane hitting the Cape Fear region like Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and the possibility of untreated wastewater from a Titan mining operation flowing directly into the Cape Fear River and contaminating the countys water supply.

McCallum has a question that demands answering. What happens when a hurricane comes and the levees break and you dump the quarry in the river?

To date, from the Governors office to the General Assembly, to the county commissioners, no one has a good answer. Somebody ought to be accountable for that, McCallum adds, even though you cant put a price on it, and the damage has been done.


Titan Meetings

In an email received at our office on Tuesday, August 12, 2008, Kate McClain, spokesperson for Titan American/Carolinas Cement Company, let us know that Carolinas Cement was planning to host three community information workshops regarding their proposed 1868-acre Castle Hayne cement plant in September and October. The workshop dates and locations are:

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 4 - 8 p.m.  North Branch, Cape Fear Community College, Castle Hayne

Tuesday, Oct. 7, 4 - 8 p.m.  Schwartz Center, Cape Fear Community College Downtown, Wilmington

Monday, Oct. 27, 4 - 8 p.m.  UNCW Executive Development Center, Wilmington

For concerned New Hanover county residents on both sides of this critical environmental issue, attendance at these workshops is recommended.

 


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