Cement plant foes seek help in clean air fight
Phyllis Saarinen
January 1997

Government can be funny--funny weird. On the one hand, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection last month went ahead and issued an air pollution permit for Florida Rock's cement plant, saying, in effect, that they don't see any public health threat from it under current regulations...

On the other hand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has issued proposed new ambient air quality standards for particular matter and surface ozone concentrations, saying the the current regulations do not protect public health.

On the third hand, we have a group of county commissioners who say the public health is none of their business, regardless of what their own regulations say. So who's minding the store? No one: the people have to look out for themselves.

Based on statistical analyses by the Natural Resources Defense Council (May 1996 report, "Breathless") of numerous public health studies done by such credible groups as the Harvard School of Public Health had the American Cancer Society, we believe that the health impacts of cement plant air pollution will be felt by the residents of north central Florida.

With 11 tons of regulated and unregulated hazardous emissions coming from the plant every day for up to 100 years, young children, those with asthma and chronic bronchitis and the elderly would be especially hard hit; some lives would be shortened by years.

Particulate matter emissions from this plant will almost double total emissions from stationary sources in the county. Nitrogen oxides estimated to be emitted from the plant's stack are equivalent to adding 69,400 cars to county roads. Carbon monoxide levels are equivalent to adding 4,600 cars. The medical costs could be in the millions of dollars annually.

No, as incredible as the story of this facility is, we're not exaggerating. We're just sharing what we have found in published, professional, reliable reports and information provided by Florida Rock for various permits.

What will be the effect of this additional load of pollution to Alachua County's air considering that EPA has proposed new stricter ambient air quality standards that will have to be met? Using data that Florida Rock's consultant provided to Rep. Bob Casey to explain the plant's contribution to atmospheric concentrations of microscopic particles and Florida DEP's observation data on county air quality, we calculate that the plant's emissions will result in Alachua County's air quality (or dirtiness) being close to or exceeding the EPA-proposed thresholds for 2.5 micron particulate matter (produced by the combination of several different kinds of air pollutants).

What does this mean in plain English? It means that if the cement plant is built, Alachua County will have little or no capacity to accept additional pollution, i.e., new industries which may be relatively small pollution sources will not be able to locate here. So we would be trading economic stagnation for a cement plant with 80 jobs and a short term increase in county tax revenues.

Once the county air pollution levels pass the EPA thresholds, all air pollution sources--industries, cars, buses, fireplace chimneys, trash burning--must be reduced, by additional control technology on industries, car inspections, and/or eliminating some pollution sources. ...

The cement plant issue will be brought up on Jan. 15, at 9 a.m., before the Development Review Committee. Future strategy will be planned at a town meeting called by Haile Community Association to be held at the Millhopper branch library Saturday, Jan. 18, from 1:30-3:00 p.m. HCA invites representatives from other organizations or interested individuals to attend. For input or to find out more info, call the HCA president, John McCall at 472-4938.

Phyllis Saarinen is a member of Haile Community Association, and has a Masters Degree in economics. This article appeared first in FACT, Friends of Alachua County Talk, January 1997.

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