Friday, January 30, 2009

Pennsylvania Judge Rules State Mercury Rule Unlawful

AP is reporting that Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini has thrown out a two-year old rule that forced PA coal fired EGUs to reduce mercury emissions 90% by 2015. PPL Corp. challenged the rule saying it was based on the Federal CAMR which was struck down in the higher courts almost a year ago.

More on this can be found at

Diagnosis: Mercury Author To Speak In San Francisco, Feb. 4

Dr. Jane M. Hightower, author of the recent book Diagnosis: Mercury Money, Politics & Poison, will be speaking at the San Francisco JCC on Feb 4 at 6:30PM. I haven't read the book yet but it looks like a pretty good resource on the subject of mercury in our environment. There is a little more information about this engagement at Enviroblog here. I wish I was in the Bay area to attend, maybe some others can report on it.

Dr. Hightower was one of the co-researchers that discovered how mercury is getting into our food supply through high fructose corn syrup, one of the hottest recent topics in mercury circles. Hg-ATME reported on this Tuesday in the post below this one in the update at the bottom of the post. This discovery has ignited a huge debate in food quality discussions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Olin Corp. Invites Georgians To See What They Are Willing To Do For Others But Not For Them

(Interesting update at bottom)
I try to focus on mercury emission legislation and not report on individual plant issues but I have had a soft spot in my heart for the Oceana group and their fight to eliminate mercury from all chlorine manufacturing. So this story jumped out at me.

See older posts on subject here, here, here and here.

Olin has invited the folks living in the Augusta area to watch a program on the Discovery Channel about how cool they are making chlorine without mercury up in Niagara Falls, NY. They must have done this simply to rub Georgians' noses in it, because they refuse to employ the same technique in their Augusta plant. What are the people of Georgia to think about while they watch this show? "Gee, that is really neat how they don't pollute the water anymore up in New York."

A couple excerpts from a Blog called The Outsider at will explain.

Ever wondered how Olin makes chlorine? Next week’s Discovery Channel program, HowStuffWorks, features the company’s modern—and mercury-free—plant in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“Because we have a production facility in your area, we believe local residents could be interested in watching,” said a news release sent to us this week from Olin’s corporate headquarters.

David Blair, Olin’s plant manager in Augusta, said the episode will help explain how the Niagara Falls plant uses salt brine and electricity to manufacture chlorine. “We want to encourage local residents to watch the Discovery Channel program.”

Olin isn’t the only organization that hopes Augustans will watch the show, which will air at 8 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, Jan. 29.

Jackie Savitz, senior campaign director at the environmental group Oceana, said the episode might help highlight differences between new chlorine factories that do not emit mercury and older ones—like Olin’s Augusta plant—that still use mercury.

“The Niagara Falls plant does not use mercury,” she said. “In fact, it’s a perfect example of our vision for Augusta.”

Ms. Savitz believes all mercury emissions associated with the chlorine industry should be eliminated. More than 95 percent of U.S. chlorine plants have converted to mercury-free technology, she said, and the only sites still using mercury today include Olin’s 43-year-old Augusta plant and three others in Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio.

“They used to use mercury in Niagara Falls and they switched to mercury free. As a result, they are running a cleaner, more efficient plant, stabilizing the jobs and their place in the community,” Ms. Savitz said. “That is what we would like to see happen in Augusta.”

This kind of PR move blows my mind. Why call attention to your negligence in an area where it is most felt. I hope the folks in Augusta do watch the show, as well as everyone else, so we can pressure Olin and the other last holdouts to stop this unnecessary practice.

I want to thank Rob Peavy for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE: Mercury from Chlor-alkali plants not only pollutes water, it potentially makes its way into our food products. I just found this (provisional) abstract on Environmental Health. Just more reason to stop using mercury in the production of chlorine.

Abstract (provisional)

Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to produce thousands of other products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in food products to enhance shelf life. A pilot study was conducted to determine if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, a toxic metal historically used as an anti-microbial. High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup. Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person in the United States. With respect to total mercury exposure, it may be necessary to account for this source of mercury in the diet of children and sensitive populations.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lisa Jackson, Memo To The Troops

Lisa Jackson the new EPA Administator sent a memo to all EPA employees outlining her's and President Obama's plans for the coming years. Except for a few leftover appointees, I can't imagine anyone in the EPA not being thrilled to get this memo.

Full text of the memo follow;
Photo from NJBiz.


DATE: January 23, 2009

TO: All EPA Employees

FROM: Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator-designate

I can think of no higher calling or privilege than rejoining EPA as your
Administrator. I am grateful and humbled that President Obama has given
me this honor. With his election and with my appointment, President
Obama has dramatically changed the face of American environmentalism.
With your help, we can now change the face of the environment as well.

During my 21 years in public service, I have witnessed firsthand the
dedication and professionalism of EPA’s workforce. Thousands of
committed, hard-working and talented employees for whom protecting the
environment is a calling, not just a job, have made EPA a driving force
in environmental protection since 1970.

EPA can meet the nation’s environmental challenges only if our employees
are fully engaged partners in our shared mission. That’s why I will make
respect for the EPA workforce a bedrock principle of my tenure. I will
look to you every day for ideas, advice and expertise. EPA should once
again be the workplace of choice for veteran public servants and also
talented young people beginning careers in environmental protection –
just as it was for me when I first joined EPA shortly after graduate

In outlining his agenda for the environment, President Obama has
articulated three values that he expects EPA to uphold. These values
will shape everything I do.

Science must be the backbone for EPA programs. The public health and
environmental laws that Congress has enacted depend on rigorous
adherence to the best available science. The President believes that
when EPA addresses scientific issues, it should rely on the expert
judgment of the Agency’s career scientists and independent advisors.
When scientific judgments are suppressed, misrepresented or distorted by
political agendas, Americans can lose faith in their government to
provide strong public health and environmental protection.

The laws that Congress has written and directed EPA to implement leave
room for policy judgments. However, policy decisions should not be
disguised as scientific findings. I pledge that I will not compromise
the integrity of EPA’s experts in order to advance a preference for a
particular regulatory outcome.

EPA must follow the rule of law. The President recognizes that respect
for Congressional mandates and judicial decisions is the hallmark of a
principled regulatory agency. Under our environmental laws, EPA has room
to exercise discretion, and Congress has often looked to EPA to fill in
the details of general policies. However, EPA needs to exercise policy
discretion in good faith and in keeping with the directives of Congress
and the courts. When Congress has been explicit, EPA cannot misinterpret
or ignore the language Congress has used. When a court has determined
EPA’s responsibilities under our governing statutes, EPA cannot turn a
blind eye to the court’s decision or procrastinate in complying.

EPA’s actions must be transparent. In 1983, EPA Administrator
Ruckelshaus promised that EPA would operate "in a fishbowl" and “will
attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those
we regulate, and we will do so as openly as possible."

I embrace this philosophy. Public trust in the Agency demands that we
reach out to all stakeholders fairly and impartially, that we consider
the views and data presented carefully and objectively, and that we
fully disclose the information that forms the bases for our decisions. I
pledge that we will carry out the work of the Agency in public view so
that the door is open to all interested parties and that there is no
doubt why we are acting and how we arrived at our decisions.

We must take special pains to connect with those who have been
historically underrepresented in EPA decision making, including the
disenfranchised in our cities and rural areas, communities of color,
native Americans, people disproportionately impacted by pollution, and
small businesses, cities and towns working to meet their environmental
responsibilities. Like all Americans, they deserve an EPA with an open
mind, a big heart and a willingness to listen.

As your Administrator, I will uphold the values of scientific integrity,
rule of law and transparency every day. If ever you feel I am not
meeting this commitment, I expect you to let me know.

Many vital tasks lie before us in every aspect of EPA’s programs. As I
develop my agenda, I will be seeking your guidance on the tasks that are
most urgent in protecting public health and the environment and on the
strategies that EPA can adopt to maximize our effectiveness and the
expertise of our talented employees. At the outset, I would like to
highlight five priorities that will receive my personal attention:

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The President has pledged to make
responding to the threat of climate change a high priority of his
administration. He is confident that we can transition to a
low-carbon economy while creating jobs and making the investment we
need to emerge from the current recession and create a strong
foundation for future growth. I share this vision. EPA will stand
ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate
legislation that fulfills the vision of the President. As Congress
does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court’s
decision recognizing EPA’s obligation to address climate change under
the Clean Air Act.

Improving air quality. The nation continues to face serious air
pollution challenges, with large areas of the country out of
attainment with air-quality standards and many communities facing the
threat of toxic air pollution. Science shows that people’s health is
at stake. We will plug the gaps in our regulatory system as science
and the law demand.

Managing chemical risks. More than 30 years after Congress enacted
the Toxic Substances Control Act, it is clear that we are not doing
an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in
consumer products, the workplace and the environment. It is now time
to revise and strengthen EPA’s chemicals management and risk
assessment programs.

Cleaning up hazardous-waste sites. EPA will strive to accelerate the
pace of cleanup at the hundreds of contaminated sites across the
country. Turning these blighted properties into productive parcels
and reducing threats to human health and the environment means jobs
and an investment in our land, our communities and our people.

Protecting America’s water. EPA will intensify our work to restore
and protect the quality of the nation’s streams, rivers, lakes, bays,
oceans and aquifers. The Agency will make robust use of our authority
to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the
Chesapeake Bay, to address our neglected urban rivers, to strengthen
drinking-water safety programs, and to reduce pollution from
non-point and industrial dischargers.

As we meet these challenges, we must be sensitive to the burdens
pollution has placed on vulnerable subpopulations, including children,
the elderly, the poor and all others who are at particular risk to
threats to health and the environment. We must seek their full
partnership in the greater aim of identifying and eliminating the
sources of pollution in their neighborhoods, schools and homes.

EPA’s strength has always been our ability to adapt to the constantly
changing face of environmental protection as our economy and society
evolve and science teaches us more about how humans interact with and
affect the natural world. Now, more than ever, EPA must be innovative
and forward looking because the environmental challenges faced by
Americans all across our country are unprecedented.

These challenges are indeed immense in scale and urgency. But, as
President Obama said Tuesday, they will be met. I look forward to
joining you at work on Monday to begin tackling these challenges

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sweden Moves To Ban Mercury

Sweden takes a leadership role in the outright banning of all mercury containing products. In my opinion this will be the wave of the future regarding mercury use. Other countries in the EU will follow first, several states in the US will attempt to follow suit and a US national ban will take quite some time. There are alternatives for almost every commercial use of mercury and although there will always be mercury in our environment it will not be spread through commercial use.

An excerpt from an article in EHS Today sheds some light on this decision.

The Swedish government recently introduced a blanket ban on mercury that will eliminate the use of dental amalgam fillings and prohibit products containing mercury in the Swedish market.

“Sweden is now leading the way in removing and protecting the environment from mercury, which is non-degradable. The ban is a strong signal to other countries and a Swedish contribution to EU and UN aims to reduce mercury use and emissions,” said Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren.

The government's decision means that products containing mercury may not be placed on the Swedish market. In practice, this means that alternative techniques will have to be used in dental care, chemical analysis and the chloralkali industry. The Swedish Chemicals Agency will be authorized to issue regulations on exceptions or grant exemptions in individual cases.
The new regulations go into effect June 1, 2009.

Friday, January 16, 2009

After Nearly 10 Year Fight EPA To Regulate Mercury Emissions From Cement Plants

Earthjustice announced today a settlement in their long running dispute with EPA over regulating mercury emissions from cement plants. environmental groups along with nine states, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were parties to the suit.

An excerpt from an AP release on follows;

Under the agreement, the agency promises to propose new emission standards by March.

We'll be hearing more on this subject in the coming months.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Agency Memo Asks Power Project Permitting Authorities to Perform MACT Review

As I stated earlier in this blog, if you want to build new coal (or oil) fired power plants in this country you better plan on MACT standards for mercury and other toxics. A new EPA memo, dated January 7, 2009, has asked for just that consideration when reviewing new plant permits. This will affect all new plants and those that started construction, or re-construction, between March 29, 2005 and March 14, 2008.

Even though most affected construction probably meets the requirements anyway, the EPA is beginning to understand what many states already knew to be so.

Excerpts from a Power Engineering Int'l article follow;

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Air and Radiation said in a January 7 memo that power plants under construction may now need to meet new-source maximum available control technology (MACT) standards.

The EPA memo, from Robert J. Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator, states that although electric steam generators may have relied on rules that EPA issued and that were vacated by a federal court in February 2008, EPA now believes those generators are "legally obligated to come into compliance" with the requirements of Section 112(g). Section 112(g) refers to a portion of the Clean Air Act Amendments.

Units affected by the January 7 EPA memo include coal- and oil-fired facilities that began "actual construction or reconstruction" between March 29, 2005 and March 14, 2008.

EPA said it reviewed permit information for potentially affected facilities and believes that controls in place "may be sufficient" to comply with MACT standards. The agency said, however, it is asking state and local air permitting authorities to make new-source MACT determinations for each affected project.

EPA advised permitting authorities not to consider any MACT options closed simply because permits have been issued, administrative processes have begun or contracts have been let. Instead, "permitting authorities should limit such consideration to actual construction only."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mercury Threat Could Worsen Along With Global Warming - Happy New Year To You Too

Just as we are all trying to get back into the swing of our daily lives, along comes some more good news (facetious) on the mercury front. A recent research paper by Sue Natali, a postdoctoral associate in botany at the University of Florida (Go Gators!), suggests soil's ability to glom onto and hold mercury has increased along with the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and should continue to increase if CO2 levels do too.

An excerpt from a e! Science News article follows;

(She) compared mercury levels in soils under trees growing in air enriched with carbon dioxide to soil beneath trees in ambient air. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, has increased nearly 40 percent since the industrial revolution and is expected to continue climbing unless power plant and other emissions are restricted or curtailed.

Natali's main finding: Soil samples from the carbon dioxide-enriched soil contained almost 30 percent more mercury — apparently because the soil had greater capacity than soil in today's atmosphere to trap and hold on to mercury.

On the one hand, Natali said, that increased capacity could slow the mercury's release into water — its main conduit to aquatic wildlife and the fish that pose a hazard to people. On the other, it means that even if policy makers manage to ban or severely restrict mercury emissions, the metal will remain a source of pollution for a long time.

"From the time you cut off mercury emission to the time it positively affects fish, you might have this lag, because the soils hold on to the mercury better," Natali said.

Natali said scientists have long recognized mercury levels in soil spike under trees, averaging four times the concentration in open areas.

That's because trees effectively scavenge the poison from the atmosphere. Leaves and stems collect rainwater, and with it mercury; trees drop mercury-laden leaves on the ground, and trees take in the metal through their stomata, or breathing pores on leaves.

Scientists also have shown repeatedly that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to increased plant and tree growth. Natali said she launched her research to find out whether that process would in turn have any effect on pollution from mercury and other metals.

Fortunately, two experimental sites were already in place: the free-air carbon dioxide enrichment experiments at forests in North Carolina and Tennessee, operated by Duke University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, respectively. These sites consist of plots in naturally growing forests surrounded by vertical pipes that constantly pump out carbon dioxide — and have done so since 1996, for the North Carolina site, and 1998, for the Tennessee site. The systems surround deciduous and coniferous trees in the plots with 200 parts per million more carbon dioxide than ambient air, or between 549 and 582 parts per million. That is the anticipated concentration in the air in 2050 without new emissions restrictions, Natali said.

Natali assessed mercury levels in rain that struck the canopy and then flowed down stems and trunks; in rain that fell directly from the canopy to the forest floor, and in leaves that fell below the trees, or "leaf litter."

To her surprise, none contained particularly elevated levels of the poison. In fact, although the trees in the enriched plots produced more leaf litter, mercury concentrations in the leaves actually decreased. The uptick in mercury in the soil apparently happened instead because of "changes in soil properties" that occur in the enriched environments, according to the paper. These changes increase the soils' mercury storage capacity.