Environmental Laws that Apply to Mercury

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Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008

The Mercury Export Ban Act (PDF) was signed into law on October 14, 2008. The act intends to reduce the availability of elemental (metallic) mercury in domestic and international markets. By reducing the supply of metallic mercury in commerce, the act aims to reduce the use of mercury for commercial purposes globally.

The Act's three main provisions are the following:

  • Federal agencies are prohibited from conveying, selling or distributing metallic mercury that is under their control or jurisdiction. This includes stockpiles held by the Departments of Energy and Defense.
  • Export of metallic mercury is prohibited from the United States beginning January 1, 2013.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) shall designate one or more DOE facilities for long-term management and storage of metallic mercury generated within the U.S. This designation began on January 1, 2010.

For more specific and technical information on the Act, view Questions and Answers on the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008.

As required by the Act, in 2009 EPA issued a Report to Congress on the Potential Export of Mercury Compounds from the United States for Conversion to Elemental Mercury. This report identifies sources of mercury compounds in the U.S. and reports quantities in imports, exports, and uses of these compounds in products and processes.

As also required by the Act, in 2016 EPA issued a Report to Congress on the Global Supply and Trade of Elemental Mercury. This report assembles available information on the global supply and trade of mercury, which includes mercury that has been primary mined.

Any person residing in the U.S. may petition EPA for an exemption from the prohibition on export of metallic mercury. Read the Instructions for Filing Exemption Petitions under the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 for more information.

Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996

The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996 (Battery Act) phases out the use of mercury in batteries, and provides for the efficient and cost-effective disposal of:

  • Used nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries
  • Used small sealed lead-acid (SSLA) batteries
  • Certain other regulated batteries

The statute applies to battery and product manufacturers, battery waste handlers, and certain battery and product importers and retailers.

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Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act regulates 188 air toxics, also known as “hazardous air pollutants.” Mercury is listed as one of these air toxics. The Act directs EPA to establish technology-based standards for certain sources that emit these air toxics. Those sources also are required to obtain Clean Air Act operating permits and to comply with all applicable emission standards.

The law includes special provisions for dealing with air toxics emitted from utilities, giving EPA the authority to regulate power plant mercury emissions. The Agency can do this by establishing "performance standards" or "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT), whichever the Agency deems most appropriate.

More information:

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Clean Water Act

Under the Clean Water Act, states adopt water quality standards for their rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. These standards identify acceptable pollution levels in water for many pollutants, including mercury. These levels must be met in order to protect human health, fish, and wildlife.

Under the Act, no person may release any pollutant into waters unless the person has a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). EPA or U.S. states authorized by EPA issue these permits. Permits include pollution limits that ensure the water quality standards are met. 

EPA and U.S. states also issue information to the public on waters contaminated with mercury and the harmful effects of mercury. In addition, they:

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Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

EPCRA Section 313 requires that industrial and federal facilities report emissions of chemicals, including emissions of mercury and mercury compounds. Reporting is done through EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program.  You can view guidance for facilities reporting mercury and mercury compounds under EPCRA Section 313, which includes recommendations and emission factors.

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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

RCRA requires that EPA manage hazardous wastes, including mercury wastes, from their generation, through storage and transportation, to their final treatment and disposal. Before these wastes can be disposed, they must meet EPA’s treatment and recycling standards. Mercury-containing household hazardous waste, and waste generated in very small quantities, are exempt from some RCRA hazardous waste requirements.

RCRA also sets emission limits for combusted mercury-containing hazardous waste. U.S. states are largely responsible for implementing the RCRA program, and their own requirements can be stricter than federal requirements.

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Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

Under the SDWA, EPA sets standards for drinking water that apply to public water systems. These standards protect people by limiting levels of mercury and other contaminants in drinking water. Mercury contamination in drinking water can come from many sources, including:

  • Erosion of natural deposits of mercury
  • Discharges into water from refineries and factories
  • Runoff from landfills and cropland

U.S. states have the primary responsibility for enforcing drinking water standards.

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