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Society to oppose Holcim's cement plant at Weston

Press Release

Formation of Waiareka Valley Preservation Society to oppose Holcim's proposal to construct a cement plant at Weston

28 November 2006
A group of concerned residents have formed the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society to oppose Holcim's intended cement plant at Weston, on the outskirts of Oamaru.

Holcim is proposing an one million metric tonne cement plant at Weston. This will be by far the largest industrial development in the South Island, and will be equivalent to 2 to 3 Tiwai Points being built in Weston.

The plant will bring 100 jobs - and additional initial construction related benefits - but will damage the Waiareka Valley environment and surrounding community irreparably.

In the last few years there has been increased scientific understanding of the negative environmental and social impacts of Portland cement manufacturing, and this research indicates that the risks to the region associated with Holcim's proposed plant are unacceptably high.

Holcim’s information sheets have provided valuable information on the size and nature of the plant, but have not have helped us as a community understand the potentially severe effects on our and our children's health, the effects on the environment, and the potentially negative impact on economic growth.

In their information sheets Holcim has failed to mention the significant risks posed by mercury, thallium and chromium contamination. In the US, cement plants are recognised as the worst polluting industrial plants.

Given the proximity of the plant to Weston, the market gardens in Kakanui and surrounding dairy farms, mercury contamination represents a very significant health and economic risk.

Over the next two months our Society will release a number of information sheets that will fill in the gaps. As we do this it will become clear that this development is wrong for our community, and must not go ahead.

To provide consent to Holcim's cement plant will endanger all that has been achieved in North Otago in recent years.

Waiareka Valley Preservation Society Inc


“To oppose the development of the Holcim Cement plant at Weston”


Holcim is proposing a one million metric tonne (mt) cement plant at Weston, which they call the ‘Weston Option’. New Zealand does not need this extra capacity. Current New Zealand cement capacity is 1.45m mt against demand of 1.1m-1.2m p.a. New Zealand already has a surplus in cement. The Weston plant will take New Zealand’s cement capacity to over 2m mt. Yet we will not require this much cement for another 30 years.

Think of it in terms of two Tiwai Point’s being built in Weston. Tiwai Point has a capacity of 334,000 mt p.a. The cement plant Holcim is proposing will be more than twice the size.

The plant will bring 100 jobs, but will damage the Waiareka Valley environment and surrounding community irreparably.

To quote from the Ichetucknee River group in Florida:

“Cement plants are often built in the most beautiful pristine areas. Limestone deposits of ancient sea beds nestle in the soft valleys are the bedrock of tiny villages worldwide. Then it all changes, the cement plant comes and the valley is transformed, the children get cancer, the air is fouled, and the trucks roll in. The quality of life is ruined, and the sacred earth changed”.

Why a Society?

A Society gives us standing to oppose this development. The Environment Court looks upon Socities that represent the interests of local residents favourably. We are eligible for government funding. Members of the Society take no personal financial risk.

Holcim has been here before

The ‘Weston Option’ is a replica of what Holcim’s US subsidiary proposed to construct in New York State.

In 1998 St Lawrence Cement Co. proposed a massive 2m mt cement plant on the banks of the Hudson River, with the same features as the Weston Option, coal-fired, a 120m smokestack, a 1,200 acre mine, two miles of conveyor belts.

But the local residents fought back. Declaring the cement plant “Out-of-scale and out-of-place”, they argued that the cement plant would “cause irreparable damage to our natural and historic resources, and stifle positive economic growth”. Further, they noted Holcim’s poor record of environmental compliance in the United States.

After a six year battle, where Holcim’s subsidiary spent US$50m fighting local residents, in April 2005 Holcim withdrew.

And now we find Holcim wants to build a 1m mt cement plant in Weston.

Holcim’s environmental record

Holcim has a particularly poor environmental record in the United Sates, with a long history of environmental violations. Since 1993 Holcim subsidiaries have been fined a number of times for failing to observe commitments on air emission standards, and for failing to perform air emission tests.

Holcim’s track record of failing to observe air emission standards in a number of US states means that Holcim cannot be trusted to perform to the standards that they are committing to.

Pollutants associated with cement plants

Cement plants emit air toxins, such as mercury, thallium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, benzene, toluene, dioxins/furans, hexane, and formaldehyde. Exposure to these compounds may be associated with a number of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory illness, and nervous system, dermal, developmental, and/or reproductive effects.

Exposure to particulate matter emitted from cement plants has been linked with adverse health effects, including aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease and increased risk of premature death.

Emissions of hydrocarbons from cement kilns can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone can cause a variety of health problems because it damages lung tissue, reduces lung function, and makes the lungs susceptible to other irritants.

The main source of air toxin emissions from a cement plant is the kiln. Emissions originate from the burning of fuels and heating of feed materials. Air toxins are also emitted from the grinding, cooling, and materials handling steps in the manufacturing process.

Making cement is incredibly dirty work. Residents who live near cement plants in the US have reported finding heavy metals from cement kiln dust on their cars, porches and inside their homes. Residents near the Cemex Lyons Cement Plant in Colorado report finding high levels of chromium – which causes cancer – and antimony – which causes can cause heart and respiratory ailments – in the dust around their homes.

Mercury emissions

In the US cement plants are a leading source of mercury pollution, which can damage the human nervous system. Mercury emissions come from the superheated ingredients and from kiln fuels, primarily coal.

In the US smokestack tests at cement plants around the country have shown unexpectedly high mercury readings. In the US the largest source of mercury from any industrial source was a cement plant, the Lehigh Southwest Cement plant in California.

Cement companies, including Holcim in the US, have a poor record of monitoring mercury emissions. The Ash Grove Cement Co. plant in Durkee, Oregon – a plant with similar capacity to the Weston plant Holcim is proposing - originally reported 287kg of mercury in 2004 but changed the figure to 978kg – nearly one mt - after an error was detected in the company's test data.

Mercury emissions in coal-fired power stations have been successfully controlled using newer technology. However, the temperatures are too high in a cement kiln for this to work.

A Holcim spokesman in the US, Luc Robitaille, corporate director of environment for St. Lawrence Cement Co. (which is part of Holcim) stated that “there is no technology that exists in the cement industry to control mercury”.

Thallium emissions

Thallium is a hazardous metal emitted by cement production that has a particularly high toxic potency. In the US and Europe high rates of thallium are found in either workers at cement plants, or in the communities around the cement plant.

When thallium enters the environment, it does not break down but is absorbed by plants. It then enters the food chain and is absorbed by livestock, fish and people.

Given the mix of rivers, dairy and sheep farming, as well as market and organic gardens, the risk to the Waitaki district from mercury and thallium contamination is very economically significant.

Risks to downwind communities

The smokestack has to be 100m to allow time and space for the pollutants to disperse. Experience in the US has shown the wind patterns of typographical pattern of the local environment are critical in determining the distribution of pollution.

The mix of winds the Waiareka Valley is exposed to, Easterlies, Southerlies, and Nor’westers combined the effects of the Kakanui mountains makes the dispersal of air pollutants much more uncertain than Holcim is acknowledging.

Studies have shown that a plume from a tall stack drops its particulates within a minimum radius of 15km to 80km from the stack. The volume of particulates can be quite large and may actually travel considerably larger distances (100's of km) in any direction with the wind.

Evidence from the US indicates that communities within an 80km radius are affected by the emissions from cement plants.

This means that the broader Waitaki District is at risk from this development; dairy farming, Oamaru itself, the vineyards in the Waitaki Valley, fishing in the Waitaki and Kakanui rivers, organic farming, the market gardens in Kakanui.

North Otago has emerged from a difficult economic environment to find growth coming from unexpected sources, dairy farming, tourism, wine. To put that at risk for an over-sized industrial project conceived more than 20 years ago seems needlessly risky.


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