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Release Date: 12/19/97
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EPA today released a Congressionally-required eight-volume technical report evaluating air emissions of mercury, and the human health and environmental impacts of these emissions.
The report is a multi-year effort that represents a full scientific assessment of the health and environmental effects of mercury. The report makes no regulatory or policy recommendations.

The new report affirms the guidance on safe levels of mercury which EPA has had in place since 1995.

The publication, “Mercury Study Report to Congress,” was required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. It estimates that all U.S. industrial sources combined emitted about 159 tons of mercury into the air in 1995. Major sources of mercury air emissions are electric utilities, municipal waste combustors, commercial and industrial boilers, medical waste incinerators, and chlor-alkali plants.

“This report has been subjected to extensive peer review by independent scientists and health experts,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “It reflects the current science about mercury in our environment today. EPA has already has taken a series of actions to reduce emissions of mercury into the environment 50 percent by 2006. This report will help us assess the need for additional actions to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.”

Mercury is a heavy metal that, with high exposure, can cause developmental neurotoxicity in humans, especially developing fetuses. High exposure can result in delay of walking and talking in children, as well as lower scores on nervous system function tests. It is of particular concern because it persists in the environment. Mercury emissions to the atmosphere can end up in waterways as a result of rainfall and runoff. Mercury then can enter the “food web” and build up as methyl mercury in the tissues of predatory fish that feed on contaminated smaller fish.

The greatest exposure of humans to mercury is for those subsistence fishers and others who regularly eat large amounts of non-commercial fish from mercury-polluted waters. Women of child-bearing age in this group should pay careful attention to the state advisories that warn people against eating fish caught in mercury-polluted waters. Thirty nine states issued mercury fish advisories for non-commercial fishing in 1997.

The levels of mercury encountered in commercial fish are generally low. Therefore the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA advise consumers that it is safe to eat fish and other seafood from grocery stores and restaurants. (Specific questions on the safety of commercial seafood should be directed to the FDA Washington Press Office at 202-205-4144).

EPA has already taken steps to reduce mercury emissions from three significant industry sources nationwide. In October 1995, the Agency issued final regulations cutting mercury emissions by 90 percent from municipal waste combustors; in April 1996, EPA proposed a rule --- scheduled to go final in late 1998 -- that will significantly reduce mercury emissions from hazardous waste combustion facilities; and in August 1997, the Agency announced a final rulemaking which will reduce mercury emissions 94 percent from medical waste incinerators.

These rules will significantly reduce mercury emissions when fully implemented by the states.

Administrator Browner and top agency managers are now assessing any need for enhanced research on health effects; research on new pollution control technologies; community right-to-know approaches; and additional regulatory actions. EPA will fully consult with the public as part of its assessment.

The study released today was reviewed and approved by consensus by EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Other scientific experts outside EPA also provided peer-review, and their comments were incorporated into the report. The publication also contains substantial input from other major stakeholders, including industry groups, the general public, and state, local and federal government agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Energy, the Department Of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The executive summary of the report will be computer-accessible on the Internet at the following address (

Copies of the entire mercury study will be available from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) in several weeks. No report number is available yet. Check the above internet address for further information.

For specific state fish and wildlife advisory information for local waters, the general public can call state government agencies, which in most cases are listed as state health departments. To get the phone numbers of these departments, people should call “411" or look in the Blue Pages of their phone book. The advisories are also available -- in most cases -- in state fishing regulation booklets, which anglers receive when they purchase fishing licenses. In addition, the database is available for downloading from the Internet at:

For further technical information on the study, contact Martha Keating of EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at 919-541-5340.

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