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Enforcement in New England

Mercury: A Guide for Federal Facilities

Mercury contamination is a serious environmental and public health problem that has recently received a great deal of attention. Mercury is a toxic and persistent pollutant. It is responsible for health advisories limiting consumption of fish in 40 states, including all of the states in New England.

Political interest in addressing mercury in New England has been growing during the past few years. In June 1998, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Environment Committee (NEG/ECP) adopted a Mercury Action Plan and appointed a Task Force to rank and implement more than 40 specific recommendations to reduce the emissions of mercury from human sources in the environment. Some of these recommendations specifically address reduction of mercury products by different industries and sectors, including Federal Facilities.

Mercury: What Is It?

picture of a thermometer Mercury is both a naturally occurring element and an added component of many products. It can exist in a gaseous, liquid, or solid form. Possessing the properties of both a liquid and a metal, mercury is used extensively in products -- to conduct electricity, measure temperature and pressure, and function as a biocide or catalyst. The types of products include thermometers, electrical switches, fluorescent lamps, and measuring devices.

Mercury's ability to readily change chemical states allows it to constantly circulate in air, water and soil. As an element, mercury cannot be destroyed by combustion or through biological degradation. Mercury is volatile and can be transported over long distances before deposition on land or in water. This poses a significant risk for New England.

Once deposited into water bodies, either directly from water discharge, air deposition, or indirectly as runoff, mercury enters the food chain. Aquatic organisms can readily absorb it. Mercury then bioaccumulates in the fish that feed on the micro-organisms and in the fish-eating mammals and other wildlife. This is an important public health and environmental concern.

Health Impacts: Why Are We Concerned?

Mercury in the Environment: Where Does it Come From?

Sources of Mercury

Mercury is added to a wide range of products. The following list provides a guide to some of the most common uses and/or sources:

Instruments: Barometers, thermometers, hydrometers, blood pressure devices

Medical/Dental Uses: Dental amalgam, pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, diagnostic reagents

Products: Chlorine, caustic soda, sodium hydroxide, fungicides/pesticides, preservatives, pigments

Laboratories: Reagents, preservatives, electroanalysis, slide preparation

Electrical Switches: Thermostats, light switches, industrial switches

Lamps: Fluorescent, high pressure sodium, metal halide

Pivots: Lighthouses, wastewater treatment plant tracking filter arm

Fuel Combustion: Coal, oil, natural gas

Federal Facilities Role

Federal Facilities can take an active role in helping to reduce mercury in the environment. FFs should identify where mercury can be found in their operations and ensure that mercury-containing products are disposed of safely and appropriately. Furthermore, FFs can help by only purchasing necessary mercury-added products. The cost of cleaning up a mercury spill at a FF can be thousands of dollars. Removing non-essential uses of mercury and ensuring that mercury-containing products are safely disposed of can save FFs from the potential liability of a costly spill.

A first step is to conduct an inventory of the Facility in order to identify where mercury-containing products are found. A second step is establishing priorities for reducing the sources of mercury and exploring possible substitute products and processes. A third and final step would be to evaluate the efficacy of various substitutes and investigate their implementation. If there are no substitute products available, the Facility could also consider establishing a recycling program for mercury- containing products. There are several Federal and State agencies in New England that will help FFs with the steps outlined above.

The New England states and EPA Region I-New England are seeking a few Federal Facilities to volunteer and work with State and Federal assistance providers to develop case studies. This would help with improving the understanding of the mercury sources and possible substitutes at Federal Facilities in the Region. EPA and the states would use the case studies to showcase what Facilities can do to lower their mercury uses, emissions, and discharges. If your FF is interested in volunteering for this program, contact the EPA or NEWMOA.

Steps to successfully reduce mercury in a Federal Facility:

  • Inventory all mercury products
  • Eliminate non-essential uses of mercury
  • Establish priorities for reducing sources of mercury
  • Explore substitutes for mercury-bearing products
  • Implement Federal Facility mercury reduction plan

Partners for Change

Under EPA's Partners for Change (PFC) program, the Agency is demonstrating that voluntary goals and commitments that go beyond regulatory compliance can achieve real environmental results in a timely and cost-effective way. The PFC Program encourages responsible and pro-active environmental practices. These include a comprehensive inventory of mercury-containing products, good housekeeping and management of mercury and other toxic products, proper handling and waste management of mercury products, and the selection of alternatives to mercury-free products. The program ensures that Federal Facilities which achieve their goals will be recognized in their community for their efforts.

Useful Information

Reports:

Mercury Study Report to Congress - EPA -425/R-97-003 -010, December 1997

Northeast States and Eastern Canadian Provinces Mercury Study: A Framework for Action -- NESCAUM, NEWMOA, NEIWPCC, EMAN February 1998 (to order call NESCAUM at (617) 367-8540)

Contacts:
US EPA - New England:
Jeri Weiss (weiss.jeri@epa.gov), Regional Mercury Lead , (617) 918-1568

Anne Fenn (fenn.anne@epa.gov), Federal Facilities Program Manager, (617) 918-1805

Peggy Bagnoli (bagnoli.peggy@epa.gov), Partners for Change, (617) 918-1828

NEWMOA:
Terri Goldberg (neppr@tiac.net), Deputy Director (617) 367-8558 x302

State Mercury Leads:
CT DEP, Lois Hager (lois.hager@po.state.ct.us), (860) 424-3022

ME DEP, Stacy Ladner (stacy.ladner@state.me.us), (207) 207-287-7853

MA DEP, Judy Shope (judy.shope@state.ma.us), (617) 292-5597

NH DES, Vince Perelli (v_perelli@state.nh.us), (603) 271-2902

RI DEM, Ron Gagnon (gagnon@dem.state.ri.us), (401) 222-6822

VT DEC, Environmental Assistance Division, (802) 241-3589

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