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RELEASE: 1/3/02

CONTACT: Amy Collings or Loretta O'Donnell
(609) 984-1795 or 609-292-2994


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 into waterways.

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 program.

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 and industries.



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