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Fighting for Clean Air in Oklahoma ~ An Interview with Lisa Sharp

Lisa Sharp is a freelance writer, social media marketer and environmental activist, living in a small town in Oklahoma. She has a blog called Retro Housewife Goes Green and runs a website called Green Oklahoma.  Lisa and I have been online friends for a few years, which in internet time equates to forever.  So when I saw Lisa talking about a local cement plant, air pollution, and the subsequent health effects on Facebook, I told her I’d love to interview her for the Moms Clean Air Force

How did you become interested in and first learn about the pollution coming from the local cement plant?

Around 1992, I would have been five, the cement plant tried to get a permit to burn hazardous waste and my grandmother was very active in fighting it. They won that fight so I didn’t think about it much until I became more active in the environmental community. A few years ago I was at a sustainability conference listening to Earl Hatley and I ended up talking to him about the cement plant and it turned out he had been apart of the fight against the plant in 1992. The things he told me sparked my interest and I started researching cement plant pollution more. 

Please give us a summary of the environmental problems caused by the cement plant.  What pollutants are released? Are current emissions standards being exceeded?

After the cement plant lost the battle to get a hazardous waste burning permit they started burning tires. As of a few years ago there were only nine wet-process cement plants burning tires in the U.S. Seven of the nine are in violation of the pollution limits, set by the Clear Air Act. Three are high-priority violators. One of these three plants is the plant in my town. In 2005 they violated the pollution limits more than 1,000 times in one year. They were only fined $321,000. Last I checked they were currently in violation as well.

Some of the toxins the plant puts off include ammonia, benzene, certain glycol ethers, chromium, diethanolamine, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, ethylene glycol, lead, manganese, mercury, sulfuric acid, and zinc compounds. Cement plants are the third largest contributor of mercury emissions. 

How has your own health and/or your family’s health influenced your environmental activism?

I personally have asthma, as do my mom and brother. My mom’s asthma was very severe when I was young and we were living 0.7 miles from the plant. While many things played a role in her asthma being so bad, we believe one of those things was the cement. Since they have moved from that house, out of town, she has been much better. My asthma was better when living outside of town as well and once I moved back to town, now 2.5 miles from the plant, my asthma has gotten worse. 

I also have many friends that are quite young but already are battling cancer. My town’s cancer rates are above the state average, which is above the national average. I’m tired of seeing my friends sick and dying and knowing there is this plant pumping tons of cancer causing chemicals into our air.

Has the pollution from the cement plant been linked to local health issues?

Officially, no. But as I said our cancer rates are high. I also believe our autoimmune illness rate is high but haven’t been able to research this yet. Many doctors in town have commented on Ada’s cancer rate and citizens are starting to also question this. Benzene is one of the toxins that the cement plant puts off in large amounts and it’s been shown to cause cancer so it’s hard not to question a link. And benzene isn’t the only cancer causing chemical the plant puts off.

Have your local politicians become involved in this issue?

No. There is a city council member in Tulsa that is fighting the cement plant there on burning hazardous waste but that is the only politician I know of. And he is not being well received by others in Tulsa. That will be a very big fight.

What are you hoping will happen? What would be your ideal outcome?

Many people have this idea that I’m trying to get the cement plant closed down, but that’s not the case. I know they are one of the largest employers in my town and that it was cost the city jobs and money that we can’t afford to lose. Also at this time we need cement, I don’t want to close our plant just to end up with another city polluted to make the cement we were making. 

I would love to see the plant follow the current laws and for the laws to be made stronger. I also would like the burning of tires and hazardous waste by cement plants made illegal. This is where a lot of the emissions come from so this would cut them a lot. More scrubbers and other improvements that would help pull out the toxics would be nice as well. The biggest thing for me though, is to first get them to follow the law.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming an environmental activist?

Don’t do it! Just kidding. It is a very hard job and one that is often thankless but it can also be the most rewarding job you can do. You don’t have to take on a big company like I’m doing. I started by joining my local recycling coalition, I’m currently a board member. Simple things like that can really help your community be a better place. 

More about cement plants from Lisa:

I’d like to thank Lisa for sharing her fight for clean air with the Moms Clean Air Force.  As Lisa said, her goal is to have the cement plant follow current emission standards and she thinks emissions standards need to be strengthened. 

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force in our fight to strengthen clean air standards and protect our children’s health.

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