Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the food chain and can damage the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It has been linked to attention deficit disorder in children, and is particularly hazardous to developing fetuses and young children. Poison control centers and emergency rooms took 18,000 calls in 1998 because of broken mercury fever thermometers.
Fish consumption advisories exist in 40 states due to mercury contamination. Broken thermometers, which each contain one-half gram of the substance, are a big source of the pollution. That half gram is sufficient to spoil the water in 200Olympic-sized pools, or 5 million gallons. There are better alternatives to poisonous mercury thermometers, such as digital and glass with alcohol or galinstan.
Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants lead to contamination of our nation’s waterways. Fish eating advisories are in place in many states that recommended a limited consumption of fish from certain waterways. New technologies are making mercury emissions control more economical.
Several agencies and local governments have taken steps to phase out mercury thermometers. In 1998, the American Hospital Association signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promising to phase out the use of mercury thermometers among its members.
- Mercury Policy Project
- Listing of Mercury-related State Laws, Local Ordinances and Resolutions in Effect - tracking from Health Care Without Harm
- Global Mercury Assessment Home - United Nations Programme
- Mercury Exposure: The World’s Toxic Time Bomb - Ban Mercury Working Group (Ban Hg-Wg), January 2003
Under a compromise agreement, legislation was passed into law in May 2006 that requires Minnesota’s largest coal-fired power plants to cut mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015. Utilitieswere brought on board by allowing immediate recovery from ratepayers the cost of installing the necessary pollution control equipment.
On January 5, 2006, Illinois Governor Blagojevich proposed a strong set of mercury pollution control standards. The proposal would require coal plant owners to install modern pollution control equipment to reduce mercury pollution by 90 percent or more by June 30, 2009. Unlikeother state mercury reduction efforts that involved some sort of legislative catalyst, the Illinois effort appears to be an executive directive from the Governor to the Illinois Pollution Control Board(PCB) to establish agressive mercury reduction rules for power plants.
In March 2003, environmental organizations including Clean Water Action, the Connecticut Coalition for Clean Air, and the Clean Air Task Force along with electric utility PSEG Power Connecticut (owner of the 375-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor coal-fired power plant) issued a joint recommendation to the Connecticut General Assembly for legislation establishing stringent new mercury emission standards for the state’s coal-fired power plants. The legislation sets a national precedent for controlling power plant mercury emissions. Continue reading
Vermont’s mercury labeling law is a nice example of how one state’s action can lead to nationwide changes. Vermont legislation enacted in 1998, required manufacturers to label certain mercury-added products sold or distributed in Vermont to inform consumers of mercury content and proper disposal. There was no threshold on the amount of mercury a product must have in order meet labeling requirements. Continue reading
Maine has passed a handful of laws in recent years designed to prevent mercury pollution from a variety of sources including consumer products such as thermostats, cell phones and vehicles. The efforts in Maine can be a model for other states. In Maine, overall mercury emissions to the air have dropped by more than 75% from their peak in 1991, with reductions by municipal waste incinerators leading the way.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance on May 8, 2000 banning the sale, import and manufacture of mercury thermometers (both fever and weather) within San Francisco’s city and county limits. San Francisco was the first county in the nation to enact such a ban. Duluth, Minn. was the first city in the nation to ban the retail sale of mercury fever thermometers. Continue reading
On March 6, 2000, the city of Duluth adopted the nation’s first-ever ban on the sale of mercury fever and basal (used by women)thermometers. The purpose of this ordinance is to help eliminate mercury from the waste stream. An earlier Minnesota law (M.S. Section 116.92, subd. 7) prohibits medical facilities from routinely distributing mercury thermometers. Another state law (M.S. Section 115A.932) prohibits depositing them in solid waste.
On July 10, 2000, the City Council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, approved a new Ordinance to addChapter 69 Mercury Thermometers (Ordinance No. 31-00) to the city code – effective as of July 26, 2000. Thenew ordinance bans the retail sale, importation and manufacture of mercury fever thermometers within the city limits. Ann Arbor becomes the first city in Michigan and the second in the Great Lakes basin to enact such an ordinance. The city of Duluth, Minn. and the City and county of San Francisco passed similar measures earlier in 2000.