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January 2004

New Jersey Poised to Accept New Mercury Emission Regulations

Changes Could Affect Iron and Steel Melters and Solid Waste Incinerators

Trenton, NJ— New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell announced the proposal of new rules that would reduce mercury emissions from power plants, iron and steel melters, and municipal solid waste incinerators. These rules will help to reduce mercury contamination in water and fish that poses a serious public health risk for New Jersey’s communities.

Exposure to low levels can permanently damage the brain and nervous system and cause behavioral changes. Scientists estimate up to 60,000 children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in utero.

“Now that the Bush Administration has chosen to neglect the environmental harms caused by mercury, New Jersey yet again must shoulder the responsibility of protecting public health,” Campbell said. “If New Jersey’s rules were enacted nationally, annual mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants alone would decline from approximately 48 tons to about five tons.”

Last week, Bush Administration officials announced a proposal to let coal-fired power plants trade credits, gaining financially for mercury emission reductions already mandated by the Clean Air Act. The Bush proposal would reduce plants’ mercury emissions by only one-third of what the Clean Air Act requires and would allow many plants to continue their mercury emissions unabated.

DEP’s proposed regulations call for up to a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions from the state’s 10 coal-fired boilers in power plants by 2007. The rules allow for some flexibility, giving plants the option of meeting the standards by 2012 if they also make major reductions in their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates.

The new regulations also mandate a reduction of mercury emissions from the state’s six iron and steel melters by 75 percent by 2009. The state estimates that iron and steel manufacturing plants are the largest New Jersey-based sources of mercury emissions, with much of their materials coming from shredded automobiles’ scrap metal.

The proposal also calls for a further reduction of mercury emissions from New Jersey’s five municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators of at least 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2011. Previous rules enacted in 1994 have already significantly reduced emissions from MSW incinerators, leading to a reduction of 4,000 pounds of mercury emitted into New Jersey’s atmosphere annually.

The rules also contain standards for medical waste incinerators that are already being met by the three facilities operating in New Jersey.

These protective standards will ensure that these incinerators continue to minimize mercury emissions, allowing for a maximum level of emissions that is one-tenth the current federal limit.

Mercury is a problem both from long-range sources and from regional and local sources. Contaminated fish have been found in remote areas of the state, such as the Pine Barrens, as well as in industrialized areas.

Mercury can contaminate waterbodies either directly through runoff or from air pollution that deposits in the water. Once in an aquatic ecosystem, it accumulates in the tissues of plants and animals as methylmercury, the most toxic and harmful form of mercury.

New Jersey is one of 41 states that has issued fish advisories for certain species of fish contaminated with mercury. Studies have shown, that reducing mercury emissions can significantly reduce contamination in nearby ecosystems. In Florida, scientists found that mercury concentrations in fish and wading birds in the Everglades have declined by 60 to 70 percent in the last 10 years as a result of controls in mercury emissions in neighboring industries.

DEP developed these rules in consultation with other governmental agencies, universities, scientists, regulated industry officials, and environmental and public health advocates. The rules are also similar to regulations adopted in Connecticut and Wisconsin and proposed in Massachusetts.

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