October 1, 2008
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Citing a new risk study, House Democrats, public health advocates, and labor officials are rejecting industry arguments that the House should adopt Senate legislation that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to permit products that contain up to 1 percent asbestos. The study’s findings show that road workers could still be exposed to dangerous levels of the carcinogen under the Senate bill, and those findings back a stricter House bill drafted by the House Environment & Hazardous Materials Subcommittee in February requiring the EPA to ban all asbestos-containing products, with an exception that would allow up to 0.25 percent asbestos in certain stone, sand, and gravel materials.
The new study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, analyzed worker exposure to naturally occurring asbestos fibers found in materials used in a road construction project in Alaska and found that, in some cases, workers were exposed to airborne asbestos concentrations above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) permissible exposure level (PEL), even though the road materials contained less than 1 percent asbestos. In addition, the study found that one worker would have been exposed to an airborne concentration more than double the PEL had his work scenario lasted for eight hours.
According to the study, while the study’s authors concluded that the airborne asbestos concentration the workers were exposed to was below the OSHA PEL for most tasks associated with constructing roads with asbestos-containing gravel, they were concerned that about 3 percent of the workers’ exposures were near or above the PEL.
In a July 11 letter obtained by Inside EPA, a coalition of industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, urge House lawmakers to abandon the draft legislation in favor of the Senate-approved bill, stating that enacting the House legislation could cost the nation hundreds of thousands of American jobs without improving protection of public health. The letter went on to say that the House legislation would cause companies that did not sell, process, or intentionally use asbestos to be subjected to litigation and criminal prosecution if asbestos was found in their product.
The House rejects the arguments in the industry letter, arguing that there is evidence that materials that contain less than 1 percent asbestos can cause dangerous exposure.
Cement from CO2
Brent Constantz says he has invented a green cement that could eliminate the carbon dioxide created by manufacturers of everyday cement used in concrete construction projects, according to an article in Scientific American.
Calera, a new Calif.-based company founded by Constantz, claims that by simply bubbling leftover fumes from natural gas-fired power plants through seawater, 90 percent of the CO2 produced can be used to make cement, turning a polluting substance into a way to reduce greenhouse gases. While Calera’s process of making calcium carbonate cement wouldn’t eliminate all CO2 emissions, it would greatly reduce them, Constantz says.
“For every ton of cement we make, we are sequestering half a ton of CO2,” he told Scientific American. “We probably have the best carbon capture and storage technique there is by a long shot.”
Carbon capture and storage has been identified as crucial in addressing climate change. Constantz says his patent-pending process will capture the CO2 created by power plants and permanently store it in the cement. Calera employs spray dryers that use the heat in the flue gas to dry the slurry that results from mixing water and pollution. The resulting cement is white and, once dried, can be used as a replacement for portland cement.
Calera has set up a pilot plant at the Moss Landing power plant in Calif. where some flue gas is already running through the process. “We are using emissions from gas-fired generation as our CO2 source at the pilot plant where we are making up to 10 tons a day,” he said. “That material will be used for evaluations.”
The California Department of Transportation has expressed interest in testing the cement, and Dynegy, owner of the Moss Landing power plant, is intrigued by the possibilities.
Constantz plans to make the case for the new green cement at the World of Concrete in February.
Pilot program allows self-reporting of violations
On Aug. 7, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a pilot program that allows regulated facility owners to self-disclose environmental reporting violations electronically, according to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association. The Audit Policy Self-Disclosure system, or eDisclosure, will allow companies to disclose violation of all environmental laws electronically, reducing transaction costs for the companies that report the violations. Under the system, the EPA created a series of incentives for facility owners who voluntarily report a violation, such as reduced or waived fines and penalties.
According to the EPA, the program uses its Central Data Exchange, the system for submitting environmental data to the agency. When an electronic self-disclosure is submitted, the information is saved in a secure database and routed to the appropriate agency contact. It is then evaluated against the Audit Policy conditions and the appropriate enforcement response will be determined.
Highway Trust Fund update
On Sept. 5, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced a reversal of policy to support an immediate fix of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), according to a report from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The HTF, which is funded by the 18.3-cent federal gas tax, was projected to run out of money by the end of September. Prior to this announcement, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had rejected Congressional plans to make the HTF solvent. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6532 in July, which would replenish the HTF’s balance and prevent insolvency. At Aggregates Manager press time, AGC was urging the Senate to heed the DOT’s call to enact the legislation by Sept. 12 and send it to the President’s desk for approval.
Contractors push Congress to act
Contractors are pushing Congress to take action on six areas that they consider to be critical economic issues, according to a release from the Associated General Contractors of America. With the Highway Trust Fund being number one on the list, AGC has asked members of Congress to address five additional areas:
* Extend the authorization for the Airport Improvement Program into the 111th Congress; give Federal Aviation Administration programs the authorization they need to modernize and improve safety at America’s congested airports and air space;
* Finalize appropriation for FY ’09 and provide economic stimulus that creates jobs;
* Improve domestic energy security;
* Extend tax provisions; and
* Reauthorize E-Verify to give employers across the country the confidence they need to deal with the pressures of hiring a competent legal workforce.
“The construction industry is suffering a drop in employment, especially in highway and transportation construction, which has seen employment drop more than 5 percent in the past year,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC. “We have also seen significant volatility in diesel/energy prices over the last five years, for instance, #2 diesel fuel is up 341 percent. In the few legislative days that remain, we urge Congress to address these construction industry priorities.”
A call for student design competition participants
The Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, along with the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, will host the 5th annual Student Design Competition consisting of a two-stage, team-based problem involving a technical design and an oral presentation. The technical design takes place during the first semester of the school year on each team’s campus. It is designed to simulate an engineering project prepared by an engineering group for a company.
This year, the problem will focus on designing a greenfield quarry operation using actual exploration data from an aggregate company. The second stage of the competition will be held at the 2009 SME Annual Meeting in Denver. It will be an oral presentation given to the “board of directors” of the company. In the past, the second stage has typically consisted of a financial justification of the first stage.
Students who would like to participate and can put together a team of six undergraduates should contact the Student Design Competition Committee at 804-476-6433. The benefits of participation include experience in engineering design, enhancing public speaking skills, gaining leadership experience in a team environment, a great resume builder, opportunities to contact sponsoring companies that may be looking for new hires, and, of course, prize money.
Companies or individuals interested in being involved with the youth of the mining industry should consider becoming a sponsor of the competition. A sponsoring company’s name will appear in front of a large group of the industry’s future employees, and provide an opportunity to see those future employees in action.
Vulcan Materials’ Sussex Quarry recently received the Rock Solid Gold Award for 2007 from the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers. Vulcan received the award for excellence in health and safety – its fourth straight year of operation without a lost-time injury. A Vulcan press release stated that the company actively promotes safe and healthy working conditions within its facilities and protects the health and safety of its employees, customers, and neighbors.
Lafarge Aggregates SE, Douglasville Quarry in Douglasville, Ga., is a recipient of the 2008 Performance Track Environmental Performance Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The award recognizes facilities with strong environmental records that go above and beyond their legal requirements.