WASHINGTON (September 29, 2008) --Critical legislation that will help protect Americans and people around the world from mercury poisoning by banning the export of elemental mercury from the United States was passed by Congress today, according to scientists and policy experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The new law, called the Mercury Market Minimization Act (S.906), puts an end to the cycle of poison where this dangerous neurotoxin is being phased out by industry and the government here in the United States, but then our surplus mercury is shipped overseas to developing countries, where it is released from highly polluting industries. Not only is the air and water in those importing countries contaminated with concentrations of mercury that would not be tolerated in the United States, the mercury can also travel for thousands of miles and can settle right back here in the United States, poisoning Americans mainly through consumption of contaminated fish.
“Neither mercury or the fish we eat recognize federal boundaries,” Susan Keane, Mercury Policy Analyst for NRDC, said. “Passage of this legislation banning the export of mercury is a great victory for Americans’ health and the health of people in the developing world. It will curb the flow of mercury into global commerce, keeping it out of our tuna and other fish. Combined with a similar ban adopted just last week by the European Union, this law will significantly reduce the amount of mercury use and pollution from the developing world.”
The law now requires that all mercury in the United States remains here, where it can be managed according to U.S. laws. It prohibits the departments of Defense and Energy from exporting their huge accumulated stockpiles of mercury. Under the new law, the Department of Energy will establish a long-term storage facility that can be used to store any excess mercury that is not used by U.S. industries.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that poses greatest risks to women and children, mainly through consumption of contaminated fish. Mercury contamination is widespread in lakes and rivers throughout our country: nearly every state has at least one fish advisory in place due to hazardous mercury levels. While uses of mercury have declined in the United States, the metal has continued to be exported to the developing world.
This legislation represents an historic compromise that will result in a safer and cleaner environment. To help pass this major public health improvement, NRDC worked closely with members of Congress, representatives of industry, and local officials, including the American Chemistry Council, the National Mining Association, and the Environmental Council of States (ECOS).
The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and in the House by Representative Tom Allen (D-ME), whose leadership will now result in the protection of countless people here and abroad.
NRDC also appreciates the leadership of Chairman and the Ranking Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Joe Barton (R-TX); and the Chairman and the Ranking Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and their staffs for their commitment to passing the mercury export ban.