Web Date: November 14, 2007
House Passes Ban On Exports Of Elemental Mercury
The House of Representatives on Nov. 13 passed a bill that would ban U.S. exports of elemental mercury beginning in 2010.
The legislation would require the Energy Department to store quicksilver recovered from chlor-alkali plants, gold-mining operations, and the recycling of fluorescent light bulbs and mercury-containing devices.
The bill, H.R. 1534, is aimed at eliminating environmental release of the neurotoxic element. Tons of mercury are sold on world commodity markets, and much of it ends up released at small-scale gold-mining operations in developing countries (C&EN, May 28, page 26). Millions of gold miners, who include children, are poisoned by mercury used to separate gold from fragments of rock and sand.
The provision requiring DOE to store mercury was negotiated by Democrats and Republicans after consultation with three industry organizations—the American Chemistry Council, the Chlorine Institute, and the National Mining Association—as well as the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Council of the States, which is a coalition of top state environmental regulators.
The Bush Administration opposes the bill. A White House statement says the provision requiring DOE to store mercury is "outside the scope of the department's core mission and would involve additional costs to the federal taxpayer."
H.R. 1534, which passed on a voice vote, requires companies to pay DOE a one-time fee to cover most of the costs of storing the metal.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that DOE would charge industry about $3.00 per lb—or $6,600 per metric ton—to store mercury at its Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility. There, the department stockpiles hundreds of tons of mercury left over from the Cold War.
The Senate has not yet moved on a companion bill to H.R. 1534. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) introduced that legislation, S. 906, in March.
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