Blowing in the wind
Cemex's toxic dust is found in Lyons homes
By Tyler Wilcox
If it wasn't clear before, it's a scientifically proven fact
now: Making cement is, quite literally, dirty work. Cemex, the Mexican-owned
company that stands as the largest cement manufacturer in North America and
owns a cement plant just outside of Lyons, is sending harmful chemicals into
the Front Range's air. Residents within a half-mile of the Cemex Lyons Cement
Plant have found heavy metals in the dust on their cars, porches and inside
their homes. These heavy metals are typically found in cement kiln dust, a
fine, toxic dust that can burn skin, lungs and sensory organs.
Residents collected dust samples two weeks ago and submitted
them to Cardinal Environmental Laboratories, an independent lab in Ohio, for
analysis. The results confirmed the long-held suspicions citizens had about the
plant's toxic discharge. In the samples, levels of chromium twice the level of
the Environmental Protection Agency standards were found. Chromium is known to
cause some types of cancer. Antimony—a metal that can cause heart and
respiratory ailments—was also found in the dust. The tests were conducted
with the help of the Colorado Citizens Campaign, a statewide grassroots group
that has been keeping its eye on Cemex, and Denny Larson, director of Global
Communities Monitor, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that assists communities
worldwide to independently verify air pollution and health concerns.
"To me, one of the most meaningful results is that chromium
was found, both inside the homes and outside the homes," said Jaime Rall,
program director for the Colorado Citizen's Campaign. "That's not normal. That
indicates to me that we need more testing to find out exactly what neighbors
are being exposed to by living next to Cemex."
Lois Hickman, a Lyons resident who participated in the test,
found heavy metals in the dust inside her home. "We want to know exactly where
the cement dust comes from," she says. "Unwashed trucks on the highway?
Fugitive dust from the plant? That will determine what Cemex needs to do to
clean up our community."
In the coming weeks, Lyons residents will test for mercury,
which is another toxin commonly found in cement kiln dust. They'll also test
for more dangerous types of chromium. "Until we know which form is there, we
can't speak clearly to the health risks," Rall says. "We do know that chromium
6 is a very dangerous toxin that is very frequently a byproduct of cement manufacturing—it's
been found to have carcinogenic properties. That's what we're looking for."
And, Rall is quick to point out that the recent tests have
only covered one aspect of Cemex's pollution-causing methods. "This doesn't
even get to the stuff that's being released by the plant smokestacks, which is
a whole other host of toxins," she says. "That includes sulfur dioxide, carbon
monoxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds—and those are
released in huge amounts by the stacks. We're talking about a 50-mile radius
that is being affected by these emissions."
Since January of this year, members of the Colorado Citizens
Campaign have written 1,958 personal letters to Cemex managers demanding the
reduction of pollution produced by Cemex. With a recent management change at
the Lyons plant, Rall is optimistic about the future. "John Lohr, the former
plant manager, was replaced last week by Steve Goodrich," she says. "We know
that the plant was receiving and reading the letters, but we see this as a new
opportunity to make changes to the plant. We're hoping to build a relationship
with him and really work at improving the plant. I'd like to meet with him
personally and talk about what we can do to clean up the plant. Our goal is to
build a lasting relationship between the plant and the neighbors that will
create lasting changes to the pollution problems that people are experiencing.
We're not going away until it's achieved. We're committed to the campaign until
the company sits down with us."
In the meantime, Lyons residents are starting to make their
voices heard. This Saturday, a "March To Clean Up Cemex" will take place.
Organized by a new group, Mothers Against Burning Tires (MABT), in response to
Cemex's plans to start burning tires as a source of alternative fuel, the march
will start at 12:30 p.m. at the Stone Cup Café on 442 High St. in Lyons and
will end at the Cemex plant. Prior to the march, from 10 a.m. to noon, there
will be a letter-writing drive held at the Stone Cup.
"[MABT] came out of all of the mothers getting up and
speaking at recent hearings that have been happening out here in Lyons," says
Michele Leonard, one of the organization's founders. "Because they've extended
the public comment period until May 18 for the state's air-quality control
commission, this is our last-ditch effort to be heard, to let the state and
Cemex know that we will not tolerate tire burning in Boulder County... Our goal
is to have alternative fuels removed from the Title V operating permit that's
about to be issued [to the company]. If Cemex proves that they can burn coal
safely for five years then we're perfectly willing to come back and discuss
other sources of fuel. But because they haven't burned coal safely for 40
years, there's no indication that they can burn tires safely. The EPA has said
that tire burning is one of the most toxic forms of getting fuel. We are not
willing to be experimented on, which is what they want to do."
For more information on the Colorado Citizens Campaign, go
to www.coloradocitizenscampaign.org, or contact Jaime Rall at 303-863-8168. For
more information on the MABT's "March To Clean Up Cemex," contact MABT at
303-709-8343, or firstname.lastname@example.org.