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Mercury in New England

New England Sources of Mercury

The Region has been working closely with the New England states to reduce air emissions of mercury from municipal solid waste incinerators and medical waste incinerators. EPA NE is also working to reduce the use and ensure the appropriate disposal of waste products containing mercury, such as fever thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs. The six New England Governors and five Eastern Canadian Premiers signed a Regional Mercury Action Plan in 1998, to provide a road map for mercury reduction activities in the Northeast. Mercury is a priority for the New England tribes. They have been conducting fish tissue testing, developing and conducting fish consumption surveys and issuing fish advisories.

EPA identified mercury as a concern in New England in the early 1990s. In 1989, EPA did extensive fish-tissue sampling in New England. Lakes previously thought to be pristine were found to have high levels of methyl mercury in many fish species. In many of these watersheds, fish-eating birds, such as loons, and mammals were also found to have high levels of mercury in their feathers and/or eggs. Research is underway to identify physiological, behavioral, and reproductive effects that may result from these levels of mercury. EPA also continues to monitor fish in lakes and streams in New England and nationally.

EPA New England and a team of researchers recently completed a model called MERGANSER (Mercury Geospatial Assessments for the New England Region) that relates atmospheric mercury deposition to lake and watershed features (e.g., watershed size, presence of wetlands, land use) to estimate mercury levels in loons and in 12 species of fish for over 4,400 New England lakes. Results, which will soon be available via a web-based interactive tool, can be used to assess the risk of mercury in fish and wildlife, and to help plan mercury-pollution reduction efforts. MERGANSER also can be used to predict changes in mercury levels in fish and loons as a result of changes in atmospheric mercury deposition, temperature changes due to climate change, or changes in land use. For more information on this model, please contact Alison Simcox (simcox.alison@epa.gov or 617-918-1684).

EPA has developed standards for some of the largest sources of mercury emissions, including several categories of incineration units, such as Municipal Waste Combustors, Medical Waste Incinerators, and Sewage Sludge Incinerators. EPA has also developed regulations to control mercury emissions from power plants. Leading up to this effort, the EPA collected information on mercury in coal through sampling and stack testing on many power plants in the US. Based on this data collection effort we have developed emission factors for coal-fired power plants. EPA estimates that 48 tons of mercury are emitted each year from these sources nationwide, about 0.20 tons (400 pounds) are emitted in New England.

On December 16, 2012, EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Rule, representing the first set of national standards to reduce mercury emissions and other toxic air pollutants from new and existing coal- and oil-fired power plants. Through strict emissions limits, the MATS Rule is expected to reduce mercury emissions from power plants by 90 percent and provide between $37 billion to $90 billion in health benefits each year nationwide.

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