Monday, November 19, 2007

Some Nevada Mining Reports Open Eyes On Extent Of Mercury Emissions

As Hg-ATME has reported (several Nevada Posts are here) Nevada began cracking down on gold mining operations in the state, requiring testing to actually determine the levels of mercury being emitted. Heretofore the amounts were only estimated by the mines, and estimated quite poorly I might add. From an excerpt from a recent article;

New emissions data, obtained from the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP), show that northern Nevada gold mines are still under-reporting substantial amounts of mercury air pollution. It also reveals that a number of mines that were previously considered small sources of mercury air pollution are actually very large sources, yet these mines have few pollution controls in place. Until 2006, mines were not required to actually measure mercury releases, only estimate mercury emissions.
"We now know that hundreds of pounds of mercury are needlessly going into our air from mines that have minimal controls in place," said John Hadder of Great Basin Mine Watch. "This new information is a wake-up call. We want the State and industry to agree to get controls in place right away."

Under Nevada's new mercury regulations, the four largest mercury polluters were prioritized as "Tier 1" mines and all the smaller emitters as "Tier 2" mines based on information available at the time. The new emissions data, however, reveals that a number of the Tier 2 mines are actually large sources of mercury air pollution. For example:

* The Florida Canyon mine submitted no mercury pollution reports to the EPA for the last eight years, yet the new information indicates that the mine is a large source of emissions, reporting 440 pounds of emissions in a 2006 report to NDEP.

* The Rawhide Mine submitted reports to the EPA of just 0-1 pound of emissions for each of previous 8 years, yet it reported 351 pounds of emissions to NDEP in 2006. The mine is currently winding down operations.

Other "Tier 2" mines that are now reporting large emissions include the Newmont Lone Tree mine at 622 pounds and the Glamis Gold mine at 1,010 pounds in 2006.

And this added information from Desert News below;

An employee at the Florida Canyon mine referred questions to mine manager Martin Price, who was not immediately available for comment.

The Rawhide mine is owned by Utah-based Kennecott, a subsidiary of the international conglomerate Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto spokesman Louie Cononelos said he could not comment until hearing back from Rawhide officials.

Mark Amodei, president of the Nevada Mining Association, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The three environmental groups gave the two mines a 60-day notice of their intent to sue over alleged failure to report mercury emissions as required under federal law.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

US House Votes to Ban Mercury Export, But Wait, White House Opposes

And so it goes. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, proposed a bill that would ban the export of highly toxic mercury and force federal agencies to find permanent storage facilities for their stockpiles. This House vote on H.R. 1534 was so unanimous it carried on a voice vote. Sens. Barack Obama, D-IL, and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

But even with bi-partisan support the Bush White House opposes the measure. From the AP article below;

The White House said in a statement that an export ban might lead to more mining and an increase in the release of mercury into the environment.

I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that makes no sense to me. How could banning the availability of the substance used in mining gold lead to more mining and an increase of mercury emissions? Someone explain that rationale to me, please.

Bangkok Conference Focuses On Global Mercury Agreement, Will USA Sign On Or Kyotoize It?

The Open-Ended Working Group on global mercury issues is currently meeting in Bangkok. The need for a global agreement to combat the spread of the toxic chemical in our environment has been discussed and mostly agreed upon. Hg-ATME has said many times that mercury emissions are a global issue and no one nation can solve the problem alone. We can set good examples for others to follow but without a global approach countries that restrict mercury use and emissions will eventually reach their capacity to effect the change and further reductions will have to come from somewhere else.

Hey, doesn't that sound like the Governors and Senators from New England and New York describing their situation with the Midwest? Its funny how we are all downwind of someone and mercury emissions travel around the globe so only a global approach will work.

From an excerpt from their conference coverage is below;

UNEP is urging governments, working with industry and civil society, to begin setting "clear and ambitious targets" to get global mercury levels down and to set the stage for mercury-free products and processes world-wide.

Such targets might include:

- an agreement to phase-out mercury from products and processes, such as in the manufacture of medical equipment and in chlorine factories, with an aim of realizing mercury-free products by 2020.

- Reductions in emissions from coal-fired power stations with the additional benefits of reduced greenhouse gases and improved local air quality.

- Support for initiatives like those of the UN Industrial and Development Organization which has a goal to cut by 50 per cent the use of mercury in artisanal mining by 2017 en route to a total phase-out

"The global public has been watching and waiting for action-it is now time to start delivering it. This meeting, aimed at narrowing the options and resolving outstanding concerns, comes against a background of worries over rising levels of mercury emissions and releases in several key areas" said Mr Steiner.

UNEP's flagship report-the Global Environment Outlook-4-launched last month states that that coal burning and waste incineration account for about 70 per cent of the total quantified emissions of mercury.

"As combustion of fossil fuels is increasing, mercury emissions can be expected to increase, in the absence of control technologies or prevention," says the GEO-4, the peer reviewed work of well over 1,000 scientists and experts.

And some additional coverage by the Environmental News Service below;

One of the world's thousands of coal-burning power plants.
This one is in Selangot, Malaysia.
(Photo courtesy Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries)

Governments need to accelerate the effort to deliver an international agreement on mercury, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.

Steiner said scientists have been warning about the dangers to human health, wildlife and the wider environment for more than a century. But still, every person alive today is thought to have at least trace levels of the heavy metal in their tissues.

Mercury is linked with a wide range of health effects including irreversible damage to the human nervous system including the brain and scientists have concluded there is no safe limit when it comes to mercury exposure.

It is true that many countries have, in recent decades, taken steps to reduce mercury uses and releases and to protect their citizens from exposure to this toxic heavy metal. However, the fact remains that a comprehensive and decisive response to the global challenge of mercury is not in place and this needs to be urgently addressed," said Steiner.

"There is no real reason to wait on many of the mercury fronts. Viable alternatives exist for virtually all products containing mercury and industrial processes using mercury," he said.

These global efforts have been tried before with big issues like global warming, but if major contributors like the US do not support them they have little chance of success. The Kyoto protocol is a good example. Some in the US are on board with these issues. My next post talks about just some of those efforts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Big Mercury Meeting In Bangkok

A News Release from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in their Earth Negotiations Bulletin announces the meeting lasting Nov 12 - 16, 2007, In Bangkok, Thailand.

The First Meeting of the Ad hoc Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to Review and Assess Measures to Address the Global Issue of Mercury begins today at the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

The OEWG is expected to review and assess options for enhanced voluntary measures, and new or existing international legal instruments on mercury. The meeting is also expected to consider the Analysis of Possible Options to Address the Global Challenges to Reduce Risks from Releases of Mercury report.

I'm sure there will be some interesting discussions over Pad Thai and Singha. I will try to keep everyone up to date on what is discussed. I am not in Thailand for the conference. But you can follow the proceedings yourself at this link.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Northeast States Continue To Tout Their Leadership On Mercury Emissions and Slam the Midwest

It is probably because I am from Illinois that it irks me so much to read the articles day after day coming from the New England States and New York claiming they can do no more on Mercury Emissions in their own States, its up to the midwest if we are goingt to achieve our Clean Water goals.

As far as leadership goes, several Midwest States have stepped up to the challenge and legislated some of the toughest mercury emission laws in the country with compliance dates much sooner than most others. Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have really done their part. It just doesn't feel right for the Northeast States to keep harping on the Midwest. Face it, the Federal EPA screwed up and left it to individual States to get tough, some have and others haven't.

I agree Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, 5 States with a lot of coal fired units, could have done better, in most cases they have done nothing. But don't come down on Illinois or Minnesota, both passed mandatory 90% reductions across the State, no trading, by 2010. And many Midwest States are signatories to the case against the USEPA working its way through Federal courts now.

The Northeast Governors and Senators are asking the Feds to get tough and that is good, but we should have a National standard that achieves the goal for all States and all US citizens.

This excerpt from All American Patriots;

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson this week to approve the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load cleanup plan. As part of the plan, the region requires enhanced federal guidelines for mercury pollution coming into the Northeast from other parts of the country.

In recent years, the Northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York have drastically reduced mercury pollution from in-state power plants. Yet the region fails to meet current EPA guidelines because of the mercury pollution brought in from neighboring states. Today’s letter follows a similar plea made recently by the governors of the Northeastern states.

“The Northeastern states, including Maine, continue to be at end of the tailpipe of mercury- spewing coal-fired power plants in the Midwest,” said Snowe. “Maine has led the way in reducing mercury emissions within the state, but we must see strong action on the part of the EPA to reduce mercury emissions that enter our state from sources in other states. The petition from the region clearly identifies that our State simply can not do anything more. The lax approach by EPA in regards to our national problem has failed to protect the health of our children, Maine’s natural resources and the economies that depend on them.”

We are all downwind of someone, the mercury issue is a global issue. US can take a leadership role by demonstrating what can be done economically to reduce this toxin in our environment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mercury Emissions in Mainstream Media

Mostly I report on localized issues regarding mercury emissions that may not be so readily apparent to parties interested in the subject of mercury in our environment. I get an article from page 10 of the New York Times, or a blurb from a submission to a scientific journal. Rarely is mercury emissions Page 1, above the fold material. The last few days has been unique in this regard, first there was an article in Forbes magazine about a few Nevada mines misreporting mercury emissions. Excerpt below;

Nevada-based Great Basin Mine Watch, the Idaho Conservation League and Earthworks threatened legal action against the Florida Canyon Mining Co.'s operation near Imlay and the Kennecott Mining Co.'s Denton-Rawhide Mine near Fallon.

Contrary to recent data reported to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, the mines reported little or no mercury emissions over the last eight years to the federal EPA, said John Hadder, staff scientist with Great Basin Mine Watch.

In 2006, the Florida Canyon mine sent 440 pounds of mercury into the air and the Rawhide mine reported 350 pounds of emissions, according to the NDEP.

"We now know that hundreds of pounds of mercury are needlessly going into our air from mines that have minimal controls in place," Hadder said. "This new information is a wake-up call. We want the state and industry to agree to get controls in place right away."

Then USA Today runs a front page exposé on mercury emissions with a nifty state-by-state interactive map, and a very cool global and state-by-state map of where mercury is landing. For any of us who follow mercury emissions on a regular basis, all 23 or so of us, none of the information in USA Today was really new. What is important though is that mercury emissions and the health effects caused thereby is becoming more and more a mainstream topic of discussion.

If the issue remains in front of the average news follower then the chances of making meaningful improvements in global mercury emissions are dramatically improved. I want to thank USA Today for their brilliant coverage. When USA Today takes on a topic like this they do a phenomenal job of bringing technical issues to the average reader so that they are then able to walk away with a better understanding of whats going on in their world.

There were three articles in USA Today on Tuesday Oct 30th. I have made links to all of them below.

Mercury emitters rush to meet new U. S. rules, by Larry Wheeler, of Gannett News Service
Opposition takes on coal plants, by Bobby Carmichael, of USA Today
Power plants are focus of drive to cut mercury, by Larry Wheeler, of Gannett News Service