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Federal Agencies Tackle Use and Management of Mercury at their Facilities
Release Date: 04/05/2001
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)
BOSTON - Four federal facilities that have made significant improvements in the way they use, store and dispose of mercury were recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during an all-day mercury-reduction workshop today at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford.
EPA New England presented the awards to the successful pilot projects – Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; the EPA New England laboratory in Lexington; the US Coast Guard Academy in Groton, Conn., and the Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford.
More than two dozen environmental managers from federal facilities were expected to attend the training, sponsored by EPA New England's Federal Facility program. New England is home to hundreds of federal facilities, including military and civilian facilities. Many federal facilities have fluorescent lamps with small amounts of mercury that need to be properly handled. New England facilities also had thermostats with mercury switches, thermometers in laboratories, and on-site medical or dental facilities with mercury in the instruments.
"The dangers of mercury contamination are so well-known and severe that we as a society must do more work to reduce mercury's presence in the environment," said Ira Leighton, acting regional administrator of EPA New England. "The federal government must act as a leader by taking immediate steps to reduce the amount of mercury stored and used in federal facilities."
Mercury is a highly toxic, naturally occurring metal that moves between water, air and soil as a result of natural and human activities. It can damage the neurological development of children who are exposed by eating contaminated fish, as well as fetuses who are exposed through their mother's consumption of contaminated fish. In New England, 83 percent of the rivers, lakes and streams are so polluted with mercury that residents must limit the consumption of freshwater fish caught in them. All six New England states have fish advisories in place due to mercury contamination.
A representative from each pilot project described how the facility worked with EPA New England and the New England Waste Management Officials Association to assess the amount of mercury used and stored at these facilities and then instituted programs to reduce the amount mercury at the facility.
"We were very encouraged that these federal facilities were able to take our recommendations and make a number of changes," said Terri Goldberg, deputy director of the Northeast Waste Management Officials Association (NEWMOA) "We see this project as an opportunity for federal facilities to do mercury reduction and are pleased with the response we've received so far."
Today's workshop, called "Mercury, Is It A Problem At Your Facility?" is meant to spur other federal organizations to follow suit.
The Coast Guard reported it removed more than 230 pounds of elemental mercury, 45 pounds of mercury-containing items from its labs, and 155 thermometers.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard reported it removed 35 percent of the mercury-containing items in storage at one shop and introduced an inventory system for the remaining items at that shop. It also changed its contract language to prohibit the use or purchase of mercury-containing items by contractors working at the facility unless written permission is received.
EPA New England in December called on municipalities across New England to ban the retail sales of mercury fever thermometers, an action taken in the fall by the city of Boston. Although Boston passed New England's first city-wide ban on the sale of mercury fever thermometers, New Hampshire already has a state-wide ban and many communities across the country are adopting similar legislation to prevent mercury pollution. Freeport, Maine, has since passed a law and cities and towns throughout New England are considering similar legislation. The cities of Duluth, Minn., DeForest and Stoughton, Wisc., and Ann Arbor Mich., and the counties of San Francisco, Calif., and Dane, Wisc. already have mercury thermometer bans in place.
The six New England governors and premiers from all five Eastern Canada provinces, working with the EPA, adopted a Mercury Action Plan in 1998 that aims to cut mercury emissions in half by the year 2003 and eventually to eliminate mercury in the waste stream. Largely as a result of this agreement, all four New England states that have large waste incinerators -- New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts -- have passed legislation that is more stringent than what EPA requires. This legislation significantly lowers the amount of mercury emissions allowed by large municipal incinerators.
Nationally, the largest source of mercury emissions is from combustion of fuels, and most often coal. In New England, about half the emissions are from medical waste and municipal incinerators because of all the thermometers, light bulbs, blood pressure units and countless other products thrown away. EPA standards already in place will reduce national emissions from municipal incineration by as much as 90 percent by the year 2002, compared to 1995 levels.