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Environmental opposition to coastal cement plant reaches Raleigh

Posted March 24, 2009
Updated March 29, 2010

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— Opposition to Titan America's plan to build one of the largest cement factories on the East Coast is stirring up debate in the Triangle.

The plant would be built on the site of the old Ideal Cement plant, near Castle Hayne in New Hanover County. That plant shut down in 1982.

Some New Hanover residents and state environmental groups are concerned about the effects the new facility could have on the environment.

Proponents say the plant would bring much-needed jobs to the area, while opponents are concerned over the potential negative impact the facility could have on the Cape Fear River.

“Unemployment is at an all-time historical high in Wilmington just like the rest of the country. So yeah, the need is real for jobs,” said Gary McNair, general manager of WECT television.

McNair said he supports the cement plant. Building the plant would mean hiring hundreds of construction workers, and operating the plant would put about 160 workers on the payroll.

“There's the need for cement,” McNair said.

That need for cement, however, could mean mining limestone in an area covered by wetlands.

“One of the main things we're concerned about is the discharge of mercury,” Cape Fear Riverkeeper Doug Springer said.

The proposed plant would be on the bank of the Cape Fear River.

“This is from the pre-existing cement kiln," Springer said as he pointed to the old cement factory as a sign of what the new plant will bring.

“This river is already mercury-impaired. It's the only section of the river that is mercury-impaired. We can't say that's all due to the previous plant, but it's awful coincidental,” he continued.

Wilmington TV reporter Joe Mauceri has been following the cement plant debate for months.

“It's a completely polarizing force. You have people in strong opposition and people in strong support. Right now, it is the buzz of the town,” Mauceri said.

That buzz can be heard all the way in Raleigh, where environmental groups are lobbying state agencies and lawmakers to make it tough for Titan America to get permits.

The company, based in Norfolk, Va., and part of a company headquartered in Greece, has indicated that it is listening their concerns. In a letter to the state, it asked to be held to tougher new emission standards, surpassing what is currently required for permitting.

“Maybe I'm naive, but I've got to believe that the regulations in place were put there by people who know what they're doing,” McNair said.

“The mood is pretty tense I think,” Mauceri said. “It's going to heat up before it cools down.”

“It's going to be a long fight, but we don't have any other choice but to win. We have to win," Springer said.

Sen. Julia Boseman, D-Hanover, has introduced a bill that would put an 18-month moratorium on issuing permits for any cement factory in North Carolina. A public hearing was held on the bill Tuesday morning.

17 Comments

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  • protestthis Mar 25, 2009

    Another "not in my backyard" fiasco unfortunately until they devise a way of putting 90% of all the building/manufacturing/commercial/whatever plants on the dark side of the moon.. guess what - it will be in somebody's back yard.

  • deduce Mar 25, 2009

    Hg concentrates in fish tissue in amts 10,000 to 1 x the concentration in H2O. FDA limit for human consumption is 1 ppb, so 0.1 ppB in H2O is all needed to lead to levels over the FDA limits. It takes a very small amount, in addition to the natural levels present, to contaminate a body of water.

    One ppb too high you say? Then feed Hg contaminated fish to your kids or grandkids and see what happens.

    Hg also biomagnifies in the food chain - readily absorbed by plankton, bacteria, etc and passed up the food chain. If you didn't like my 20 acre lake comment, you won't like this either: USGS runs a mercury research station in Madison WI. A 27 acre lake in N Wis. that they monitor has become polluted to the point the fish are inedible by FDA stds. The total amount of Hg entering the lake annually is one gram - the size of "one droplet" - not radically different than the 1/70th of a teaspoon per 20 acre surface area I referenced earlier, though I omitted the word "annually".

  • cadetsfan Mar 25, 2009

    Haggisbasher, these measurements/estimates are valid as of the last 10-15 years. You're right that population density matters. Though, your mention of poverty and tobacco use is a bit tangental.

  • haggis basher Mar 25, 2009

    "Relatively large plants can produce a maximum individual cancer risk upwards of 1 person per 10,000 people. Cancer risks from radionuclides at cement facilities likely outweigh the combined cancer risks of non-radionuclide emissions."
    Would these emissions be the same in a modern facility? this a low density populated area so a cancer rate of 1 per 10,000 would be unmeasurable and way below the rates for a thousand other things (like poverty) that make us sick. If you really want to reduce cancers, ban tobacco use.

  • cadetsfan Mar 25, 2009

    "Again, relative to what? Radioactivity is a natural phenomenon and we are exposed to it all the time. The question is what would be the exposure increase?"

    Among ALL industries, cement production is among only a handful that release 'significant' amounts of radionuclides other than 222Radon. Cement plants specifically release significant amounts of 210Polonium. The 210Po emissions to air tend to be on the order of 0.04 GBq/yr per kt/yr production. A typical cement plant that produces 2000 kt/yr would produce ~80 GBq/yr 210Po. Relatively large plants can produce a maximum individual cancer risk upwards of 1 person per 10,000 people. Cancer risks from radionuclides at cement facilities likely outweigh the combined cancer risks of non-radionuclide emissions.

  • Reader Mar 25, 2009

    Puhlease! We have cement plants all over - who built I-540? SO, now we need a state-wide moratorium on new cement plants, just when Obama has sent money for infrastructure construction, because New Hanover doesn't want a specific one on the river? Keep your politics at home! Btw, mercury levels are high in the Cape Fear tributaries all the way up Black River. Thank the Progress power plant burning coal on Hwy 421 and the chlorine cells for bleaching paper in Acme, first.

  • haggis basher Mar 25, 2009

    "Cement plants can also release relatively high amounts of radiation in their processing."
    Again, relative to what? Radioactivity is a natural phenomenon
    and we are exposed to it all the time. The question is what would be the exposure increase?

  • haggis basher Mar 25, 2009

    "The United States is now quickly heading toward a Socialist nation, and will soon cease to be the leader of the free world."
    Rubbish, Socialist countries usually have the worst environmental conditions in the world. We have in the past done very bad things to our environment and we need to have sensible controls. Unfortunately we have scientifically illiterate electorate and politicians versus Industry where controls cost money. Somewhere in between there is a reasonable compromise. Lets hope we find it

  • haggis basher Mar 25, 2009

    How many tons of limestone would you have to use to produce your 1/70 of a spoonfull of mercury? How much ends back locked up in the concrete anyway? How much pollutants would be produced in transporting cement from, say, mexico to here? Seems to me that any risk would be pretty low given the huge land area, high rainfall etc in Eastern North Carolina

  • freddie cadetti 72 Mar 25, 2009

    You need look any further than this article to see what is destroying capitalism and free enterprise in this country. A cement plant, conforming to and even asking for tough environmental regulations are still harrassed by whacos in and out of gov't. The United States is now quickly heading toward a Socialist nation, and will soon cease to be the leader of the free world. If you think this is untrue, you had better step back and look at what the global warming/climate change worshippers are doing to your future.

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