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US Government study finds widespread mercury contamination

Discussion in 'U.S. Politics' started by Stalin, Sep 3, 2009.

  1. Stalin

    Stalin Active Member

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    Mercury is polluting streams across the country with alarming frequency, according to a study published last month by US Geological Survey. More than two-thirds of fish samples in nearly 300 water bodies exceeded levels of concern for the environment, and a quarter exceeded levels safe for human consumption. Every single fish sampled was contaminated with some level of mercury.

    Widespread mercury in the environment is not new. In fact, 48 states have mercury fish advisories in place, warning residents to avoid consuming local fish. Nonetheless, the study helps scientists gain a more complete picture of the extent of mercury pollution.

    ..


    Methylmercury is typically not emitted into the environment directly. Rather, elemental mercury is emitted to the air, is deposited in soils or waterways and is subsequently converted by microbes into methylmercury. The elemental mercury emissions come mostly from anthropogenic sources, though some natural sources such as volcanic activity play a role. Researchers estimate that mercury levels in the atmosphere are three to six times the pre-industrial level.

    In the US, coal combustion in power plants and industrial boilers account for the bulk of human-induced emissions. Other sources, including incineration of medical waste and other mercury-containing products, make a lesser though still meaningful contribution.

    Many of the major emitters of mercury have exerted their influence to escape meaningful nationwide regulation for decades, despite the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, which imposed mercury regulations. Cement kilns, coal-fired power plants and other sources continue to emit approximately 115 tons of mercury each year. Although new federal regulation is on the horizon for cement kilns and power plants, it is uncertain whether widespread human exposure to mercury will decline.

    Andy O’Hare of the Portland Cement Association, in his comments on the proposed rules for cement kilns, pointed to some potential unintended consequences of national regulation. According to Reed Business Information, he stated, “If this rule is adopted, domestic cement supply will be constrained and investments in cement capacity expansion avoided…. Pushing cement production to other countries would ‘OPEC’ the industry and make the US dependent on cement imports. In addition, because these countries have fewer regulations global emissions of mercury and carbon dioxide could actually increase.”

    This claim, though overstated and self-serving given that the cost of the technology in some cases is quite small compared to the cost of pollution control equipment already used, nonetheless points to the inability to protect the environment solely on a national basis.

    Cuts in US emissions alone would not necessarily reduce exposure of Americans to mercury. Mercury pollution can be carried large distances in the atmosphere. One study has determined that mercury can travel 2500 kilometers in the atmosphere prior to deposition.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over half of the mercury deposited in the US originates elsewhere. Ocean currents can also transport mercury long distances after deposition. To make matters worse, soil and water surfaces can re-emit mercury, greatly enhancing the residence time in the environment.

    Furthermore, world trade in fish has grown rapidly in the past 30 years, increasing more than sevenfold from 1976 to 2002. China has emerged as the largest single exporter of fish products. A significant and growing portion of fish consumed domestically is caught elsewhere.

    These issues highlight the necessity of coordinated global action to address environmental issues. But the need for such coordination is stymied by the division of the world into rival nation-states, increasingly at odds with each other as a result of the economic crisis. National ruling elites around the world are jealously guarding any competitive advantage, even if it means poisoning masses of people.

    Relatively cheap technology is now available to greatly reduce mercury pollution. A Government Accountability Office study of 14 coal-fired plants found that, on average, end-of-pipe technology could reduce 90 percent of mercury emissions at a cost of 0.12 cents per kilowatt hour, equivalent to less than a dollar a month on a typical consumer’s electricity bill. Even larger reductions can be achieved by switching to materials and fuels that don’t contain mercury, for example switching from coal-based power generation to alternative sources.

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/sep2009/merc-s03.shtml

    Comrade Stalin
     
  2. TheFranklinParty

    TheFranklinParty New Member

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    Having watched the 60's and 70's unfold, I'm clear that we can put regulations in place to constrain the most outrageous and preventable pollution, without negatively impacting corporation's bottom line.

    I also find it interesting that the Cap and Trade Bill, as currently passed, will provide a free pass to Coal burning plants without demanding any constraints of their Mercury production. I also hope that this type of reality check makes people question the pushing of fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury containing products from being stuffed down our throats.

    Last thought, there is an almost constant chant against nuclear power, Yet, coal and oil burning plants create mercury and radiation waste that is remarkable. Makes you wonder who is controlling the data stream?
     
  3. Dr.Who

    Dr.Who Well-Known Member

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    I agree that this is an important issue that threatens the healthiest parts of the human food chain in a significant way.

    What I don't understand is in an era where gov is expected to do everything including what it should not - why is no one expecting the gov to put a stop to this which they should do.
     
  4. TheFranklinParty

    TheFranklinParty New Member

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    Little or no press and campaign funding from PACs and 527s to keep the politicians and environmental groups from getting aggressive.
     
  5. PLC1

    PLC1 Moderator Staff Member

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    From the OP:

    But, wouldn't that save the US, at least, from mercury contamination?

    No, I guess it wouldn't, not to mention the ethics of shifting a poison on to other nations.

    Regulating Mercury is a difficult problem, one that the government hasn't been able to tackle as yet, and one that is fraught with unintended consequences.

    Further, once mercury is in the environment, it tends to stay there. There is quite a lot of contamination left over from the gold mining days of the 19th. century, when no one knew how bad mercury could be.

    But, yes, this is a serious issue and one that isn't getting much attention.
     
  6. Dr.Who

    Dr.Who Well-Known Member

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    I believe most of the mercury comes from the burning of coal.

    Shifting from coal to nuclear would reduce emissions without increasing emissions anywhere else.

    I have never heard that it comes from the production of cement. Ok so it does, Still no reason not to shift away from coal.

    I also believe one could make cement production pay for mercury clean up in ways that would effect foreign imports equally with home made cement.
     
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