REPORT OUTLINES IMPACTS
OF MERCURY IN NJ AND NEW PLAN TO REDUCE MERCURY
IN THE ENVIRONMENT
Shinn announces mercury
recycling project; industry leaders recognized
A state task force report released today
calls for new federal regulations to significantly reduce
mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, steps to minimize
mercury emissions from steel, iron and other industries,
new measures to minimize mercury in sewage sludge, and actions
to encourage removal of mercury from products and phase
out mercury-containing products for which there are alternatives.
The report also calls for implementing
the state's greenhouse gas action plan strategies to promote
the use of clean, renewable energy sources and other energy
efficient measures. It also recommends routine monitoring
to determine mercury levels in fish in New Jersey waters,
more sensitive techniques for analyzing mercury levels in
water, and support for a federal, nationwide program to
monitor mercury levels in commercial fish.
New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner
Bob Shinn appointed the Mercury Task Force in 1998 to review
the sources and impacts of mercury pollution and to develop
recommendations for reducing mercury emissions and exposures.
This followed a 1993 task force report that resulted in
new state regulations - the most stringent in the nation
at the time - that successfully reduced mercury emissions
from municipal solid waste incinerators by more than 90
percent and set the precedent for federal requirements which
followed five years after New Jersey's landmark actions.
"Mercury is a highly toxic material
that accumulates in the food chain. It poses a particular
threat to the developing fetus, and can cause reproductive
and other problems in wildlife. It's essential that these
recommendations be implemented to protect public heath and
the environment," said Shinn.
The report notes that mercury bioaccumulates
in fish, with some studies showing mercury levels in large,
predatory fish more than a million times higher than the
mercury levels in the waters from where they are taken.
The state has issued a series of fish consumption
advisories that apply statewide, as well as to specific
New Jersey waters, based on initial fish tissue sampling.
The report recommends additional sampling and calls on the
federal government to carry out comprehensive monitoring
of mercury levels in commercial fish so that consumers can
make informed decisions to reduce their exposure to mercury
from fish consumption. If the federal government fails to
take such action, the task force recommends New Jersey and
other states develop the advisories jointly.
DEP presently conducts a fish consumption
outreach and education program that includes pamphlets distributed
to obstetrical offices and clinics to alert pregnant women
to the toxicity of mercury in fish. Special programs also
are conducted that target non-English speaking populations.
In addition, informational signs have been printed and distributed
for posting at docks and other recreational fishing areas.
All of the state's fish consumption advisories are published
in the state Division of Fish & Wildlife's "Digest."
In accepting the report, Shinn announced
an initiative to reduce mercury in the air and water. Under
the proposed mercury recycling partnership program, auto
recyclers, scrap metal recyclers, auto shredding facilities
and other involved businesses and industries will participate
with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
(NJDEP) in a project to remove electrical switches and other
parts containing mercury from the iron and steel recycling
stream, thereby reducing air emissions from iron and steel
smelters and the deposition of these airborne pollutants
Presently, scrap metal from autos and appliances
containing electrical switches is melted to extract reusable
metal, but the process releases the embedded mercury in
those switches into the environment. Under this new project,
the mercury switches would be removed well before the melting
occurs. Mercury-free scrap metal would be more desirable
as it would help iron and steel manufacturers comply with
their air emission requirements.
The task force determined iron and steel
melters are the largest emitters of mercury in New Jersey,
followed by coal-fired power plants.
The partnership project with NJDEP is considered
an interim measure until laws and regulations can be developed
and implemented to: mandate the phase-out of mercury use
in these products, remove mercury in scrap generated over
at least the next 10 years, and install better emission
control technologies on iron and steel melters if necessary.
"The formation of this new partnership
to remove mercury from the waste stream is an extremely
important step, because the largest source of mercury emissions
in New Jersey is this recycling industry sector," said
Shinn. "Our plan is to work with EPA, other states
and industry associations to extend this mercury reduction
program throughout the Northeast." EPA provided DEP
with partial funding for implementation of the partnership
Shinn announced awards to five product
manufacturers that have taken the first steps to produce
low or mercury-free products. The award winners are: Comus
International of Clifton which makes mercury-free electrical
switches, Panasonic (Matsushita Consumer Electronic Co.)
of Secaucus which makes mercury-free batteries, Philip s
Lighting of Somerset which makes energy-efficient, low-mercury
lighting products, and Honeywell International of Morristown,
which makes mercury-free electronic thermostats and other
energy efficiency products, and recycles old thermostats
containing mercury, and Ford Motor Company for eliminating
mercury switches from its 2002 product line.
The task force, chaired by Dr. Michael
Gochfeld of the UMDNJ/Rutgers Environmental and Occupational
Health Sciences Institute, included representatives from
the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health
and Senior Services, Princeton University Center for Energy
and Environmental Studies, INFORM, Jersey Coast Anglers
Association, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association,
the Gloucester County Utilities Authority and other businesses