Cement plant wants change to mercury air emissions limit

Dragon Cement in Thomaston in 2011.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Dragon Cement in Thomaston in 2011. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 2:26 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 26, 2014, at 5:24 p.m.

THOMASTON, Maine — The state’s only cement manufacturer has asked the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to allow the plant to operate under federal emissions standards, which would allow for a higher release of mercury into the air.

The manager of the Dragon Products plant maintained, however, that the company would not be emitting more mercury into the air and that the environment would not be harmed.

Dragon Products has petitioned the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to allow it to conform to the higher federal level rather than the state standard. The state permits the plant to emit 25 pounds of mercury per year into the air while the federal level allows 42 pounds per year.

The company argues that beginning in September 2015, Dragon will be subject to more stringent federal emissions limits for mercury of 25 pounds per year when the plant is at low production levels. In addition, under federal regulations, there will be continuous monitoring and recording of mercury emissions, which the company maintains is more thorough and stringent than the current approach of periodic tests of emissions from its smokestack.

Dragon has contacted local, state and federal governments seeking support for the cement plant to operate under one, federally issued license rather than under both state and federal licenses. A meeting was held two weeks ago with municipal officials from communities near the plant.

Rockland Mayor Larry Pritchett said Tuesday that he has requested more information on the matter, including the draft license for Dragon and a report on mercury emissions from Dragon.

“I simply do not have enough info to offer an opinion beyond [that] it warrants careful scrutiny,” Pritchett said.

Plant manager Ray DeGrass said the state limit of 25 pounds of air emissions of mercury each year was arbitrarily set. He said the 42-pound federal limit was developed after extensive research.

He said the Thomaston plant would only get close to the federal limit if it was running at full capacity, something it has not done since it underwent modernization in 2004 and particularly since the recession struck in 2008.

The plant can produce up to 766,000 tons of cement each year. The greatest production since 2004 has been 600,000 tons.

The testing done to determine whether the state limit is being met involves measuring smokestack emission three times for one hour on one day of the year, the plant manager said. Under the federal limit, there is equipment established to constantly monitor emissions, DeGrass said.

The company expects the Maine Board of Environmental Protection to consider Dragon’s request in late April or early May.

The DEP has drafted an order, on which it will accept public comment through March 12. The draft order calls for Dragon not to exceed 42 pounds per year. Comments can be sent to Kathy Tarbuck, licensing, Bureau of Air Quality, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

Mercury is naturally occurring in the rocks that the company mines and processes at the cement plant, he said.

Dragon employs more than 100 people across the state and contributes $13 million to the Maine economy, the company stated in a news release. Dragon’s annual payroll is more than $6 million.

The company is Thomaston’s largest property taxpayer. The company pays Thomaston and its neighbor Rockland more than $830,000 in property taxes each year.

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