Mercury fulminations

There is probably something awful hidden in this decision, based on the usual performance of the Current Occupant, but on the surface anyway, yayyy. The less mercury floating around, the better for all of us.

U.S. won't sell huge stockpile of mercury | Chicago Tribune

One of the nation's largest stockpiles of toxic mercury will remain locked up instead of oozing into the world market.

After mulling a potential sale for several months, the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed Tuesday that it will keep nearly 1,300 tons of mercury in storage, increasing pressure on private companies to follow the same policy.

Environmental groups think the latest development could boost their efforts to phase out the use of mercury worldwide, similar to the way ozone-depleting chemicals have been gradually pulled from the market.

The European Union already has moved to prohibit mercury exports. Diplomats are scheduled to bring up the issue again next month when the governing council of the United Nations Environment Program meets in Nairobi, Kenya.

“This is a great chance to keep mercury from coming back on our dinner plates,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, a U.S. advocacy group that has been involved in the negotiations.

Most American industries that once used mercury to make batteries, thermometers, electrical switches and chlorine have switched to less harmful technologies. Many states have taken steps to discourage mercury-laden garbage from being disposed of in landfills.

But there still is robust demand for the metal in other countries. Sellers can fetch more than $700 for a 76-pound flask of mercury, up from $150 six years ago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

UN officials have tracked most of the exported mercury to small-scale gold mining operations in Brazil, Mexico, Peru and other developing countries. Miners separate gold from ore by heating a mercury-laden amalgam, but they rarely use equipment to prevent mercury from being released into the air.

Gold mines churn about 1,000 tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year, second only to coal-fired power plants, which release 3,000 tons, according to the UN.

Despite the federal government's decision to store its surplus, American mercury may still flood the world market from another source. Two chemical plants that use large amounts of mercury to make chlorine are shutting down, and Obama is pushing another bill that would require six other chlorine plants to close or switch to mercury-free technology by 2012.

The industry had more than 2,600 tons of mercury on hand at the end of 2005. The Chlorine Institute, an industry trade group, has said it won't sell the mercury if the government is willing to store it. But so far, federal officials have agreed only to study the issue.

“We haven't seen a lot of progress on that front,” said Arlene O'Donnell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and leader of a group of state regulators active on mercury-related issues.

The Trib makes a point of praising Barack Obama for this federal decision, not sure if there is merit to it, or just early PR machinations.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 3, 2007 2:58 PM.

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