EPA News about Mercury, 2008 - Present
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August 2016 -- As directed by the recent amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has released a list of mercury compounds that are prohibited from export. Effective January 1, 2020, the statute prohibits export of: mercury (I) chloride or calomel; mercury (II) oxide; mercury (II) sulfate; mercury (II) nitrate; and cinnabar or mercury sulphide, unless those mercury compounds are exported to member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for environmentally sound disposal, on the condition that no mercury or mercury compounds so exported are to be recovered, recycled, or reclaimed for use, or directly reused, after such export. Read the notice (PDF) (2 pp, 195 K, About PDF).
August 2015 – EPA Administrator and Japan's Minister of the Environment announced that the U.S. and Japan will work to contribute to the objective of the Minamata Convention on Mercury through close coordination of various activities of both countries. Read the press release.
March 2015 – EPA issued formal requests for information to five companies believed to be the primary recyclers/retorters and distributors of mercury in the United States. The purpose of these requests is to gain a better understanding of the mercury recycling marketplace and to clarify the amount of mercury used domestically in products and processes. Requests for information were sent to AERC Recycling Solutions, Bethlehem Apparatus Company, Inc., D.F. Goldsmith Chemical & Metal Corporation, Veolia Environmental Services, and Waste Management Mercury Waste Inc. This action is part of the Agency’s steps to implement the Mercury Products Strategy issued in October 2014.
October 2014 – Mercury Products Strategy: EPA released a strategy aimed to continue agency efforts to reduce mercury pollution, as part of
- the international commitments of the United States under the Minamata Convention and
- EPA's domestic efforts to reduce the production and use of products and certain processes that contain mercury.
September 2014 – EPA has proposed effluent limitation guidelines and standards under the Clean Water Act to help cut discharges of mercury-containing dental amalgam to the environment. The rule would require affected dentists to use best available technology (amalgam separators) and other best management practices to control mercury discharges to publicly-owned treatment works.
September 2014 – Issuance of a report entitled Mercury Emissions Capture Efficiency with Activated Carbon Injection at a Russian Coal-Fired Thermal Power Plant (PDF) Exit
The report describes the results of an EPA-led project, conducted over several years in collaboration with various Russian institutes, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Swedish Environmental Institute, to demonstrate mercury emission control efficiencies of activated carbon injection technologies at a Russian coal-fired power plant. In addition, the report provides the testing results of the leaching potential of the associated waste residues (assuming their disposal in a landfill).
June 2014 - EPA and FDA Advice about Eating Fish: Availability of Draft Update. EPA and FDA have released for review and comment an update to the 2004 advice contained in their jointly released document entitled “What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish.” The proposed update makes the advice consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The update also contains additional information for those who want to understand the advice in greater detail.
- Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know—draft advice on fish consumption, and supplemental questions and answers about the draft advice (FDA.gov)
- June 9, 2014 press release
December 2013 - EPA awarded four Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants totaling over $3.6 million for projects designed to reduce the risk of exposure to mercury and other toxins for people who eat fish from the Great Lakes.
November 2013 - Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption Report - EPA has released the results of a peer-reviewed study on trends in levels of mercury in the blood of women of reproductive age from 1999 to 2010. The results are included in a new report, Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age. The Agency used measurements of blood mercury levels from the Centers for Disease Control's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is conducted every two years.
- Press release
- Fact sheet
- More information about fish consumption advisories:
December 2012. EPA Finalizes Clean Air Standards for Industrial Boilers, Incinerators and Cement Kilns. EPA finalized changes to Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators that will achieve extensive public health protections by slashing toxic air pollution, including mercury and particle pollution, while at the same addressing feedback provided by industry and labor groups, increasing the rule's flexibility and dramatically reducing costs. Read the press release
November 2012. EPA Proposes to Update the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for New Power Plants. EPA proposed to update emission limits for new power plants under MATS. The updates would only apply to future power plants; would not change the types of state-of-the-art pollution controls that they are expected to install; and would not significantly change costs or public health benefits of the rule. The public will have the opportunity to comment for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and at a public hearing in Washington DC if one is requested. Learn more
Ban on Mercury Exports will begin January 1, 2013
By federal law, it will be illegal to export elemental mercury from the United States after 2012. The Mercury Export Ban Act (PDF) also has provisions for the long-term mercury management and storage of elemental mercury. Currently, mercury is exported from the U.S. to foreign countries where it has various uses, including for use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. The use of mercury in artisanal gold mining not only adversely affect the health of millions of artisanal miners and their communities, but is also a major cause of global mercury pollution.
The Act's three main provisions are:
- Export of elemental mercury is prohibited from the U.S. beginning January 1, 2013.
- Federal agencies are prohibited from conveying, selling or distributing elemental mercury that is under their control or jurisdiction. This includes stockpiles held by the Departments of Energy and Defense.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) must designate one or more DOE facilities for long-term management and storage of elemental mercury generated within the U.S.
To help the public understand and comply with the Act, EPA has provided "Questions and Answers about the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008."
For more information, visit EPA's Mercury Laws and Regulations page.
May 2012. Significant New Use Use Rule (SNUR) for the use of elemental mercury in barometers, manometers, hygrometers and psychrometers - The Toxic Substances Control Act SNUR requires persons who intend to manufacture, import or process elemental mercury for an activity that is designated as a significant new use by the rule to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing that activity. The required notification will provide EPA with the opportunity to evaluate the intended use and, if necessary, to prohibit or limit that activity before it occurs. This final rule is effective June 29, 2012. Read the final rule (PDF).
January 2012. EPA incorporates revised ASTM standards that provide flexibility in using alternatives to mercury-containing industrial thermometers. This final rule will allow the use of such alternatives in certain field and laboratory applications previously impermissible as part of compliance with EPA regulations. The rule applies to certain regulations pertaining to:
- petroleum refining,
- power generation, and
- polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste disposal.
December 2011. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) -- EPA issued the first national standards for mercury pollution from power plants. MATS are the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. The standards will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available, proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation's coal-fired power plants.
Read the press release | Learn more about these actions | Read the final rule (PDF) | View President Obama's video blog about protecting American families and the environment from mercury pollution (1:32 minutes)
December 2011. Boiler MACT - EPA issued proposed reconsiderations for rules to reduce emissions of air pollutants from existing and new boilers and major and area source facilities, and from commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators. EPA also proposed revisions to the Non-Hazardous Secondary Material (NHSM) Rule.
Read the press release | Learn more about these actions
June 2011. Administrator Jackson testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on reducing emissions of mercury and other pollutants from power plants, and on reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide through the Clean Air Transport Rule. Read her remarks, as prepared for delivery.
May 2011. EPA proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the use of elemental mercury in barometers, manometers, and hygrometers/psychrometers. The proposal would require persons who intend to manufacture, import or process elemental mercury for an activity designated as a significant new use by this proposed rule to notify EPA in advance. The required notification would provide EPA with the opportunity to evaluate the intended use and, if necessary, to prohibit or limit that activity before it occurs. Comments are due July 5, 2011. More on this proposal.
March 2011. EPA proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new power plant mercury and air toxics standards – which eliminate 20 years of uncertainty across industry – would require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, while preventing as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. The new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.
Press release | More on this proposal
March 2011. EPA issued a supplement to its June 11, 2008 proposed rule for mercury emissions from mercury cell chlor-alkali plants. This supplement proposes two options: (1) requiring the elimination of mercury emissions and thus encourage the conversion to non-mercury technology; (2) requiring the measures proposed in 2008. More on this supplemental proposal
February 2011. EPA established practical and protective Clean Air Act emissions standards for large and small boilers and incinerators that burn solid waste and sewage sludge. These standards cover more than 200,000 boilers and incinerators that emit harmful air pollution, including mercury, cadmium, and particle pollution. EPA also announced that it will reconsider certain aspects of the boiler and commercial/industrial solid waste incinerator (CISWI) rules. Press release | More on these final regulations
January 2011. EPA proposed regulatory changes to allow the use of non-mercury thermometers in areas such as petroleum refining, power generation, and testing for vehicle emissions. EPA will take comments on the proposal (PDF) (11 pp, 178K) until March 14, 2011. More on industrial thermometers.
December 2010. EPA issued final regulations adding the gold mine ore processing and production area source category to the list of source categories to be regulated under Section 112(c)(6) of the Clean Air Act due to its mercury emissions. EPA also promulgated national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants to regulate mercury emissions from this source category. Read the final regulation | Fact sheet (PDF)
November 2010. EPA announced instructions for filing exemption petitions under the Mercury Export Ban Act and developed a frequent questions document to help the public understand and comply with the Act.
October 2010. EPA proposed to cut emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from sewage sludge incinerators, the sixth-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States. Press release | Fact sheet (PDF) | Proposed rule (PDF)
September 2010. EPA announced that it will propose a rule in 2011 and issue a final rule in 2012 to protect waterways by reducing mercury from dental offices. Read the press release | Learn more about the dental amalgam effluent guideline.
August 2010. EPA issued regulations requiring reductions of mercury emission from cement plants. When fully implemented in 2013, EPA estimates annual mercury emissions will be reduced by 92 percent. Read the press release | final rule
July 2010. EPA issued a Final Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for Elemental Mercury Used in Flow Meters, Natural Gas Manometers, and Pyrometers. The Agency requires 90 days' notice prior to U.S. manufacture, import or processing of elemental mercury for use in flow meters, natural gas manometers, and pyrometers.
April 2010. EPA proposed adding the gold mine ore processing and production area source category to the list of source categories subject to regulation under the hazardous air pollutant section of the Clean Air Act (CAA) due to their mercury emissions. EPA also proposed national mercury emission standards for this category based on the emissions level of the best performing facilities which are well controlled for mercury. Read the rule (PDF) | Read the fact sheet (PDF)
November 2009. EPA released the National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue. The study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs. Read the EPA news release.
October 2009. EPA released its Report to Congress on Mercury Compounds. The report, required by Congress under section 4 of the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 (MEBA), identifies sources of mercury compounds in the U.S. and reports quantities in imports, exports, and uses of these compounds in products and processes. The report also assesses the potential for key mercury compounds to be exported for regeneration into elemental mercury.
September 2009: EPA and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) launch "Don't Mess with Mercury"
- Don't Mess with Mercury website
- See photos on Flickr of EPA emergency responders cleaning up mercury messes at a Nevada home and an Arizona high school
September 2009: EPA issued a Proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for Elemental Mercury Used in Flow Meters, Natural Gas Manometers, and Pyrometers. The Agency is requesting comment on its proposal to require 90 days notice prior to U.S. manufacture, import or processing of elemental mercury for use in flow meters, natural gas manometers, and pyrometers. The Agency will accept comments on its proposed rule on or before November 10, 2009.
August 2009: A landmark USGS study titled Mercury in Fish, Bed Sediment, and Water from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005, found mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country. About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding EPA’s criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish.
May 2009: CLARIFICATION: the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (NVMSRP) will not end if monetary incentive payments cease to be offered to automobile dismantlers recovering switches.
May 2009: New landmark USGS study shows how methylmercury emissions from around the world, and in particular Asia, end up in the North Pacific, contaminating tuna and other seafood.
March 2009: Current Status of CAMR and CAIR
EPA will develop emissions standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act (Section 112), consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s opinion (PDF)(18pp, 51k) on the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR).
Accordingly, on February 6, 2009, the Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, asked the Supreme Court to dismiss EPA’s request (petition for certiorari) that the Court review the D.C. Circuit Court’s vacatur of the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR).
January 2009: EPA, the American Dental Association, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies enter into an agreement promoting best management practices for dental amalgam. The agreement establishes a Voluntary Dental Amalgam Discharge Reduction Program, which will encourage dental offices to install and properly maintain amalgam separators, and recycle the collected amalgam waste. Learn more about reducing the discharge of mercury amalgam in wastewater.
January 2009: EPA published its final guidance for implementing the January 2001 Methylmercury Water Quality Criteria. This document provides technical guidance to states and authorized tribes on how they may want to use the fish tissue-based recommended water quality criterion for methylmercury in surface water protection programs (e.g., TMDLs, NPDES permitting).
Fact sheet | Final Guidance Document
December 2008: EPA is initiating a phase out effort for mercury-containig thermometers in industrial and laboratory settings. The Agency is phasing out the use of these devices in its own laboratories and is reviewing standards and methods that may require the use of mercury-filled thermometers in order to bring about the opportunity for the use of alternatives. Read more.
November 2008: EPA Encourages the Use of Mercury-Free Alternatives. EPA has posted a Risk Based Prioritization (RPB) document for mercury under EPA's Chemical Assessment and Management Program (ChAMP). This preliminary assessment describes uses of elemental mercury in a number of products and concludes that switches, relays, button cell batteries, non-fever thermometers, and measuring devices such as thermostats do not have to contain mercury. Based on this assessment, EPA determined that mercury in these products poses a “high priority, special concern.” The Agency plans to take prompt regulatory and voluntary action to encourage the use of mercury-free alternatives and reduce the use of mercury in products.
November 2008: EPA has also developed a searchable database of information from various sources to help identify consumer and commercial products that contain mercury and their possible non-mercury alternatives. Note that this database was removed from the website in May 2012 due to lack of continued funding. EPA encourages people to use non-mercury alternatives whenever possible as an important way to prevent exposure to mercury, including exposure due to breakage.
October 2008: EPA filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the earlier vacatur of the Clean Air Mercury Rule by the U.S. Circuit Court. The appeal asks whether EPA may remove power plants from a list of source categories to be regulated under 42 U.S.C. 7412 when it determines that regulation under that provision is not appropriate or necessary.
August 2008: EPA released Health Services Industry Detailed Study: Dental Amalgam (PDF)(76 pp, 323yy K, About PDF). As required by the Clean Water Act (CWA), every other year EPA publishes an Effluent Guidelines Program Plan. In the 2006 Plan, EPA announced that it would conduct a detailed review of discharges into wastewater by the health services industry. EPA based its decision in part on public comments concerning the discharge of mercury from dental offices and dental laboratories. The study includes information on current mercury discharges from dental offices; best management practices; and amalgam separators. The study concludes that establishing national, categorical pretreatment standards for dental mercury discharges under the CWA is not appropriate at this time.
May 2008: EPA has completed a study to better characterize fugitive mercury emissions from chlorine manufactures that use mercury cell technology. Study findings show that mercury emissions average about 0.2 tons per year per facility. EPA is also proposing to require manufacturers of chlorine using mercury cell technology to take additional steps to prevent mercury emissions. EPA would require plants not already monitoring mercury emissions to do so. Fact sheet (PDF) (3 pp., 49K)