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EPA Cuts Mercury In Gold Mining

by Jeff Johnson
April 26, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 17

Mercury emissions from gold ore processing and production—the U.S.'s sixth largest source of mercury air emissions—would be reduced under an EPA proposal announced on April 16. Mercury has been found to impair neurological development in the human fetus and in children. EPA's proposal would reduce annual mercury emissions from U.S. gold processing to about 1,390 lb per year—a 73% reduction from 2007 levels and a much larger cut from earlier years when emissions were in the 20,000-lb-per-year range, according to EPA. The proposal is based on a Nevada program that uses various collection, filtration, and control technologies to capture vaporized mercury released during heating processes that separate naturally occurring mercury from gold ore. About 21 facilities in the U.S. would be subject to the proposed rule. In 2007, the industry mined about 240 metric tons of gold at a value of $5.1 billion. The new control technologies, EPA says, will cost the industry $6.2 million initially and $3.8 million annually. Gold mining contributes about 2.5% of total U.S. anthropogenic mercury emissions, which is far less than emissions from coal-fired power plants and medical-waste and other incinerators.


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