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SFEI study targets plant emissions

Photo Town Crier File Photo Lehigh officials overlook the quarry at their Cupertino facility, just south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

 

The San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) has released a study alleging that mercury emissions from the operation of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Permanente Plant in the Cupertino foothills are significant and linger in the surrounding air during wet winter months.

The regional monitoring and research agency, joined by the cement plant opposition group QuarryNo, held a press conference Thursday at De Anza College’s Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies, to present the results.

Collected during the November 2007 to March 2008 rainy season, SFEI’s data concluded that mercury is “deposited within the vicinity of the cement plant through wet disposition.”

The study reported that “a reduction in plant operations (lower fuel use) would lead to a corresponding decrease in (mercury) disposition to the community.” Based on air samples taken at the environmental center and at Stevens Creek County Park, results indicated that mercury levels were approximately six times higher when the plant was in operation.

“This says a lot of it falls in the local community,” said Los Altos Hills resident Bill Almon of QuarryNo.

Nick Rangel, representing Lehigh, issued a company response that reiterated that the 70-year-old plant’s mercury emissions pose no major threat to the surrounding population.

“Lehigh’s operations are highly regulated by federal, state and local agencies which routinely monitor our facility,” the company said. “Ongoing tests have revealed no significant presence of mercury or other heavy metals in Permanente Creek, the closest body of water to our facility.

“In fact, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has determined that emissions from the plant remain at a safe level.”

Lehigh officials scheduled a press conference for today to announce its latest plan for reducing emissions. The company says it recently installed new state-of-the-art equipment to reduce mercury output at the plant by 25 percent.

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