Mercury Falling: New Bill Proposition to Curb Mercury Pollution
Posted Jul 11 2009 12:33am
Highly toxic by ingestion or inhalation of the dust, it can also poison a person through exposure to soluble forms, inhalation of its vapour, or eating fish contaminated with it. It’s mercury. We all know mercury for its presence in thermometers. And we all know what it means for the mercury to be rising (as is currently a major global issue). But what does it mean when mercury is falling?
It means that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has introduced a bill that would eliminate mercury from chlorine production within two years. The Mercury Pollution Reduction Act of 2009 (S. 1428), co-sponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), would abandon the use of mercury technology within two years; specifically by requiring four chlorine plants within the states to make the shift to mercury free technology in producing chlorine and caustic soda.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin. Exposure to mercury while in the fetal stages of life can cause irreversible damage to brain functions. And according to an EPA scientist, one in ten women of childbearing age has high enough mercury levels to cause such mental impairment.
“Mercury in chlorine production is like lead in paint, dangerous yet unnecessary and totally preventable,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director at Oceana - an international organization focused on ocean conservation. “The refusal of these four plants to switch to mercury-free technology is putting people’s health at risk because they are contaminating our air and water, and even their own products.”
While this bill wouldn’t necessarily change the world, it would be, in a matter of speaking, the icing on the cake. Technology that can eliminate the use of mercury in chlorine and caustic soda production has been available for decades. And 95 percent of chlorine produced in the United States already uses mercury free technology. It is the remaining 5 percent that this bill is aimed at. And that five percent comes from four plants, who still use outdated technology.
The four plants that have failed to transition to mercury free technology are not only putting the public at risk of health defects, they are harming the environment and their own economic well being. Modernizing these plants would help long-term efficiency, preserve jobs and safeguard local communities.
“Failing to keep pace with their competitors puts jobs at risk at these four chlor-alkali plants,” said Savitz. “Mercury-free chlorine production protects jobs, saves money and prevents pollution.”
It is estimated that one of these plants, located in Augusta, GA, could save an estimated $17.6 million in energy costs alone over five years. But the economics of it all aren’t the only reason for the bill. Pollution reduction is also an aim. A chlor-alkali production facility in Tennessee has historically been the number one source of mercury in the state, and the plant has imperiled the river on which it’s located, according to local environmental officials. These outdated chlorine factories release more mercury than the average coal-fired plant, making them top polluters in their states.
“Mercury contamination in our air, land and water is a serious health threat; and when there’s technology readily available to reduce mercury pollution, we should use it,” said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.
This bill hopes to amend the the Toxic Substances Control Act and in doing so protect the economy, the environment and perhaps most important, the people.
Photo Credit:jypsygenvia flickr under Creative Commons License