Mercury in Maine
On Tuesday, the Maine-based BioDiversity Reserach Institute released a new report on mercury pollution. Most media in New England covered the story. Here's a bit from the Boston Globe:
Mercury contamination is more pervasive in New England than researchers previously believed, according to a study being released today that indicates the toxic substance appears to be polluting the environment in ways that scientists previously did not think possible.
The four-year study in Northeastern United States and eastern Canada also indicates significant levels of mercury in forest songbirds and other animals that researchers did not suspect were ingesting mercury.
The study, comprising 21 papers being published in the journal Ecotoxicology, also identifies nine hot spots in the region, including in the lower Merrimack River area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire where mercury levels in animals such as brook trout, loons, mink, and eagles are alarmingly high. In some locations, the levels appear to be interfering with some species' reproduction.
"The impacts of mercury go well beyond what anyone would have envisioned yesterday," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project in Vermont and cochairman of the state mercury committee, who was not involved in the study. "It doesn't look like there are any limits on mercury's reach."
So what political action should be taken? Here are some ideas, from the BDN:
The report was released just one day after three U.S. senators from New England - including Maine's Olympia Snowe - called on the EPA to develop stricter controls on mercury emissions. The agency is expected to issue its mercury rule next week.
The Bush administration disputes a determination by the Clinton administration that mercury should be regulated as a hazardous substance, which would require about 450 power plants to invest in new technology to reduce their emissions. Instead, the EPA now favors a proposal, supported by the power generation industry, that would cap mercury emissions nationwide but allow individual plants to buy "credits" from cleaner plants rather than reduce their emissions. The agency believes that its plan could cut mercury emissions from coal-fueled power plants by 70 percent nationwide by 2019.
and the PPH:
The EPA claims its rule would reduce mercury emissions from coal-burning plants 70 percent by 2018. The EPA's own inspector general, however, found that the rules were developed with too much input from the industry. It's likely that more can be done sooner.
That also shows there's a problem within the EPA that should be addressed. Both Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have pushed for better mercury controls, and they should push for a better rule-development process as well. Collins, in her role as chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is in a place to call hearings on the flawed rule-making process and should do so.
The latest scientific findings show that meaningful controls - and a strong agency to push for them - are more urgent than ever before.
The BRI website has more information and copies of all their studies.
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