EPA and Cement: Why we lose jobs

EPA and Cement: Why we lose jobs

 By Arthur Middleton

 The recession came about because of problems in the housing
industry.  The recession has lasted as
long as it has because the Federal government has made things worse: first through spending too much and second through regulations that have
prevented businesses from expanding and hiring.

One of the latest regulations that will close businesses and
cost jobs is the EPA regulation of mercury emissions in US cement plants. We may
lose more than 10,000 jobs due to these regulations. Let’s look at the reasons
for the EPA regulations.

 Stop putting mercury in the air

 Mercury is an element that has been part of the earth since
it began 4.5 billion years ago. It gets into the air in two ways: through the
burning of coal (which has traces of mercury) and in the manufacture of building
cement from limestone which also has traces of mercury.

In the manufacture of cement, limestone is crushed to a size
of about 3 inches or smaller and heated to about 2,700 degrees  in huge cylindrical steel rotary kilns. When
the limestone is heated in the kiln, the gasses given off contain a tiny amount
of mercury along with a dozen other elements.

 Why fish contain mercury

 The mercury in the air resulting from burning of coal and
cement manufacture does no harm to anyone. Some of the mercury in the air gets
into the oceans and lakes through rainfall.
This mercury in the water is consumed by algae, which is eaten by
fish.  Some fish – not all – contain
measurable amounts of mercury as a result.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the
risk from mercury through eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern for
most people.  Certain seafood, however,
may contain levels of mercury that may cause harm to an unborn baby (and
especially its brain development and nervous system). In a young child, high
levels of mercury can interfere with the development of the nervous system. For
this reason, young children, pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age
should be careful in what fish they eat.

 The Nanny State to the rescue

 Here is where the Nanny State comes in. Because pregnant
women or young children should not eat certain fish, the EPA has decided to
issue regulations on coal and cement plants to reduce the mercury in the air
which will eventually get into algae that will be eaten by fish which will be
eaten by these pregnant women and children.

The FDA recommends that young children, pregnant women, and
women of child-bearing age not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish
because they might contain high levels of mercury. They should, however eat up
to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that
are lower in mercury such as: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and

 Mercury is World Wide

 Cement is made, and coal is burned in almost every country
in the world.  Besides the US and Canada,
the principal cement exporters are China, Columbia, Mexico, and the Republic of
Korea. None of these four have, or are likely to have, any restrictions on mercury
emissions similar to ours on their coal or cement plants for many years to

Elements in the air travel all over the globe.  The air you breathe today contains emissions
from every country on earth.  By limiting
the mercury emissions from US coal and cement plants, the reduction in airborne
mercury worldwide will be so small that it is un-measurable. So why does the
EPA not deal with the real problem: the fish that pregnant women and children
eat?  Because the EPA is not responsible
for Federal Regulations on fish consumption. That is the job of the FDA.

 The importance of the Cement Industry

 The cement industry is the building block of the nation’s
construction industry. Few construction projects can take place without
utilizing cement somewhere in the design. There are 93 cement plants in 36 states.

The new EPA rules will impose a combined total of $5.4
billion in costs on the cement industry which could amount to most of its entire
annual revenues of $6.5 billion. When the rules do go into effect  the Portland Cement Association estimates that
the industry may have to shutter as many
as 18 of the 93 cement manufacturing plants in the United States.  We will have to import more cement from

 Mercury in Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Light Bulbs

 While the EPA is busy restricting the mercury emitted in
Coal and Cement plants, they are actively promoting the use of CFL bulbs
containing mercury throughout all households and businesses in America. The
ordinary incandescent light bulb that has been in use in the US for more than
100 years contains absolutely no mercury at all.  CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, a
neurotoxin, and the companies and federal government haven’t come up with
effective ways to get Americans to recycle them.

“The problem with the bulbs is that they’ll break
before they get to the landfill. They’ll break in containers, or they’ll break
in a dumpster or they’ll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very
high levels of mercury when that happens,” says John Skinner, executive
director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the trade group for
the people who handle trash and recycling. Skinner says when bulbs break near
homes, they can contaminate the soil. Some states, cities and counties have
outlawed putting CFL bulbs in the trash, but in most states the practice is

 EPA admits that recycling CFL bulbs is not easy

Experts agree that it’s not easy for most people to recycle
these bulbs.  EPA also has asked
retailers to sell the lower mercury compact bulbs that some manufacturers are
making. Engineers say you can’t cut mercury out completely. General Electric
has been making compact fluorescents for 20 years. Now the company admits that
the little bit of mercury in each bulb could become a real problem if sales
balloon as expected.


We start with a problem: pregnant women and young children
should eat only certain kinds of fish.
We jump from that problem to a massive set of regulations on cement and
coal burning plants that will put thousands of people out of work, but will not do anything measurable to reduce
the mercury in the air or in the fish.
Then we impose new regulations that will increase the amount of mercury
in the average American home.  Does all
of this make sense?

About Arthur Middleton Hughes

Arthur is currently Vice President of The Database Marketing Institute based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Arthur is the author of 11 books, the latest of which is Strategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). A BA graduate of Princeton with an MPA in Economics and Public Affairs, Arthur taught economics at he University of Maryland for 32 years. He is an Austrian Economist.
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2 Responses to EPA and Cement: Why we lose jobs

  1. Dave says:

    I’m still worried about those pregnant women & children.

  2. Dudley Foulke says:

    This is a really good analysis of the situation. I think that the problem of unemployment is the regularltions that are keeping businesses sfrom expaning. They are too uncertain about the future. If we ar going to get America back on track, we have to make a major reductions in federal regulations.

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