Washington (GGM) Analysis | June 25, 2021 by Michael Wells
After water, concrete is the most widely used substance in the world. But this does not mean it is safe. Concrete is responsible for 5-7% of global CO2 emissions. It outweighs the combined mass of every tree, bush, and shrub on Earth, and it hardens and degrades slowly. Joni Mitchell once wrote a song about paving paradise to put up a parking lot, and that has already happened.
Companies and governments have stripped mountains, ripped sand out of beaches, and taken lake and ocean water to feed the massive demand for concrete, the substance that produces buildings for the modern world. Concrete takes so much from the environment, and, in return, the manufacturing of concrete belches CO2 into the atmosphere and spreads harmful particles in the air that causes cancer and respiratory ailments. And it exacerbates the carnage of hurricanes like Katrina and Harvey. It did so by preventing water from being absorbed into the concrete covered ground. In short, concrete is a menace that we all live and work in, on, around, and near.
Heart of the matter. No material has made the building of the modern world more possible from the construction of the Pantheon in ancient Rome to the Empire State Building. None of it would have been possible without concrete. But that has come at a huge price to the environment, animals, and people.
“Unfortunately, a cement plant makes for a horrible neighbor,” writes Fred Siegel in his book, Environmental Hazards: Are you Exposed? It is one of the least regulated industries on the planet, and it is largely run by organized crime. What a scheme: perhaps the world’s greatest polluter run by the worst criminals, which makes dead bodies entombed in concrete foundations seem almost quaint by comparison. From thousands of concrete plants that are everywhere it produces mercury, cement kiln dust, burns toxic waste (while lying about it), produces cancer causing particulate matter, and uses toxic gases and metals.
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How this impacts you personally. Concrete is in your backyard, and under your feet as you read this article. You drive on it, play on it, and your house, office, and apartment sit on it. You cannot escape it. The problem is two-fold: the production of the concrete is extremely harmful, and the concrete itself is harmful. As the saying goes, they get you coming and going, they being the industry with a bottomless need for production that has the ear(s) of most politicians.
Take Harris County where Houston, Texas sits: it has 188 concrete plants due to there being no zoning laws in Texas. In 2015, 5,200 premature deaths were caused by particulate matter from concrete according to a study done by Rice University. The study states concrete production is one of the deadliest forms of air pollution because it produces massive amounts of CO2 and other harmful chemicals, and the dust it produces causes cancer, bronchitis, COPD, and other breathing issues.
Unfortunately, concrete plants are located disproportionately in poor neighborhoods and communities of color. Another disturbing fact is ⅓ of concrete batch plants are a short walk from a school or a daycare.
As if all of these facts were not disturbing enough, there is a company in Scotland that wants to sell you concrete made of toxic ash. No, this is not an Onion article. Given the prevalence of coal ash in the United States, this type of business could easily take off because the EPA does very little to regulate the concrete industry. And why is that? Because it is everywhere, and it contributes to most people who are in Congress. Therefore, nothing is done about it.
What you can do. Be loud. Be vocal in your opposition to using concrete. Tell everyone you can, we need to regulate this industry and do all that we can to find other viable building materials. Surely this dinosaur (no offense to dinosaurs) of a building material can be replaced by something more ecological. Besides, was that building in Miami that recently collapsed built of concrete in a city that is sinking?
Do you want more of that?
- Call your government representatives at the local, state, and federal levels, and let them know you want something done about concrete;
- Do research on the internet; and
- Boycott companies that pollute when they make concrete.
Concrete is everywhere, and it comprises most buildings in one way or another. It does not always have to be that way though. Concrete may dry quickly and take forever to diminish, but that does not mean the future is already set in stone or concrete, rather. Things can change if we want them to change.
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