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December 10, 2003

Contact: Peter Boger
(609) 984-1795

New regulations would reduce emissions of mercury that contaminate air, water and fish

(03/175) TRENTON -- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced the proposal of new rules that would reduce mercury emissions from power plants, iron and steel melters, and municipal solid waste incinerators. These rules will help to reduce mercury contamination in water and fish that poses a serious public health risk for New Jersey's communities.

"New Jersey's largest sources of mercury air pollution must use today's technology wherever possible to protect our children and families from the harm that exposure to mercury causes," said Commissioner Campbell. "These rules will reduce annual emissions of mercury by up to 1,500 pounds statewide."

Exposure to the most toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. Children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to mercury contamination, which can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus, infants, and young children. Mercury exposure has been shown to affect the ability of children to pay attention, remember, talk, draw, run, see, and play.

Even exposure to low levels can permanently damage the brain and nervous system and cause behavioral changes. Scientists estimate up to 60,000 children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in utero.

"Now that the Bush Administration has chosen to neglect the environmental harms caused by mercury, New Jersey yet again must shoulder the responsibility of protecting public health," Campbell said. "If New Jersey's rules were enacted nationally, annual mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants alone would decline from approximately 48 tons to about five tons."

Last week, Bush Administration officials announced a proposal to let coal-fired power plants trade credits, gaining financially for mercury emission reductions already mandated by the Clean Air Act. The Bush proposal would reduce plants' mercury emissions by only one-third of what the Clean Air Act requires and would allow many plants to continue their mercury emissions unabated. The cap-and-trade form of mercury controls would allow several times more emissions than a Clinton-era plan that called for a technology-based control standard for all facilities. The Bush scheme also extends the deadline for full compliance to 2018 from a court-approved deadline of 2007.

Joining the Commissioner at today's announcement were Senator Barbara Buono, Vice President of the National Environmental Trust John Stanton, and members of environmental and fishing advocacy groups.

"It was gratifying that the Governor signed my bill into law, which would require that alert notices on consuming mercury-tainted fish be posted in doctor's offices that pregnant women and their children may frequent," said Senator Buono. "Providing important public health information to parents was an excellent first step in the process to bring awareness of mercury dangers to the public."

"I commend Commissioner Campbell for proposing new regulations that will actually lower toxic emissions from many sources helping to reduce mercury contamination in fish and water," Senator Buono added.

"Last week, the White House dramatically reduced federal mercury safeguards for pregnant woman and children," Stanton said. "With the Bush Administration willing to sacrifice public health for polluter profits, state efforts like these are more important than ever."

DEP's proposed regulations call for up to a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions from the state's 10 coal-fired boilers in power plants by 2007. The rules allow for some flexibility, giving plants the option of meeting the standards by 2012 if they also make major reductions in their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates.

The new regulations also mandate a reduction of mercury emissions from the state's six iron and steel melters by 75 percent by 2009. The state estimates that iron and steel manufacturing plants are the largest New Jersey-based sources of mercury emissions, with much of their materials coming from shredded automobiles' scrap metal.

The proposal also calls for a further reduction of mercury emissions from New Jersey's five municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators of at least 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2011. Previous rules enacted in 1994 have already significantly reduced emissions from MSW incinerators, leading to a reduction of 4,000 pounds of mercury emitted into New Jersey's atmosphere annually.

The rules also contain standards for medical waste incinerators that are already being met by the three facilities operating in New Jersey. These protective standards will ensure that these incinerators continue to minimize mercury emissions, allowing for a maximum level of emissions that is one-tenth the current federal limit.

Mercury is a problem both from long-range sources and from regional and local sources. Contaminated fish have been found in remote areas of the state, such as the Pine Barrens, as well as in industrialized areas. Mercury can contaminate waterbodies either directly through runoff or from air pollution that deposits in the water. Once in an aquatic ecosystem, it accumulates in the tissues of plants and animals as methylmercury, the most toxic and harmful form of mercury.

New Jersey is one of 41 states that has issued fish advisories for certain species of fish contaminated with mercury. Studies have shown, that reducing mercury emissions can significantly reduce contamination in nearby ecosystems. In Florida, scientists found that mercury concentrations in fish and wading birds in the Everglades have declined by 60 to 70 percent in the last 10 years as a result of controls in mercury emissions in neighboring industries.

DEP developed today's rules in consultation with other governmental agencies, universities, scientists, regulated industry officials, and environmental and public health advocates. The rules are also similar to regulations adopted in Connecticut and Wisconsin and proposed in Massachusetts.

The proposed rules will appear in the January 5, 2004 New Jersey Register and are subject to a 60-day public comment period.



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