Two environmental groups have released a report critical of the emission levels from more than 150 cement plants across the country, including the two cement plants in Mason City. Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project say the emissions contain dangerous levels of toxic mercury.

James Pew is staff attorney for Earthjustice. "The report looks at EPA data on mercury emissions from cement kilns," Pew says. "It confirms that some kilns are the worst mercury polluters of any kind in this country — worse, even, than coal-fired power plants." The two groups say exposure to mercury in emissions from cement plants are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and small children. Environmental Integrity Project director

Eric Schaeffer says the fish in rivers, streams and lakes near cement plants may be contaminated. "A couple of drops of mercury — one-70th of a teaspoon — will poison a 20 acre lake and make the fish unfit to eat," Schaeffer says, "so it’s pretty hard to exaggerate the toxicity of this particular chemical." Marti Sinclair, chair of the Sierra Club’s national air committee, lived near a cement plant in Oklahoma 18 years ago.

"Living there, we could see the particulate deposits on our cars and homes so we all knew we were being exposed to pollutants," she says. The report from the environmental groups ranks the Lehigh cement plants in Mason City number eight on its list of top 10 "highest mercury polluting cement kilns" in the country. A spokesman for the Lehigh plant was not immediately available for comment.

A news release from the environmental groups misidentified the cement plants in Iowa as being located in the Des Moines/Mason City metro. A spokesperson for the environmental groups later confirmed the plants covered by the report were located in Mason City, not Des Moines. The two cities are over 120 miles apart.