MURKOWSKI AND OBAMA INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO BAN THE EXPORT OF MERCURY
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to protect Alaska’s wild fish stocks, Senator Lisa Murkowski today joined Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to introduce legislation to ban the export of elemental mercury, a neurotoxin that can harm fetuses and young children if it continues to accumulate in the environment. The Mercury Market Minimization Act would prohibit the export of Mercury from the United States starting in 2010 in order to reduce its frequently uncontrolled use in developing nations. The European Union has already taken similar steps to ban the export of Mercury.
Additionally, to aid businesses holding stockpiles of mercury in excess of the amount needed for proper uses, it sets up a commission to study whether the United States should establish a mercury storage reserve. Such a reserve would relieve firms of the expense and liability of storage of the metal in the future and help keep it from leaking into the nation’s groundwater and air supplies.
“Given our expanding knowledge about the health impacts of elemental mercury when it enters the atmosphere, this is a common-sense approach to slow needless mercury emissions, especially in the developing world,” said Senator Murkowski. “Coming from a state that is a major seafood producer, I believe it is imperative that we safeguard the environment from the unnecessary release of mercury that can affect fish and potentially those who eat fish. We have never had a real problem with mercury contamination in Alaska’s seafood and this ban on exports to slow the introduction of mercury from Third World nations into the atmosphere can help maintain our excellent safety record.”
“The more we learn about mercury, the more we discover how harmful it is to our health,” said Senator Obama. “While the United States has become more vigilant in collecting and containing mercury, it remains one of the leading exporters of this dangerous product. This legislation would cause the U.S. to lead by example, encouraging other nations to eliminate their dependence on mercury.”
The ban on mercury exports is not a ban on the production of mercury should it be produced as part of mining operations in the United States. While there are no current mercury mines left in Alaska, mercury sometimes is produced as a by-product of gold or other mining, and that mercury can be sold for valid domestic purposes.
The ban on exports is designed to curb the shipment of mercury to developing nations where it can be burned in industrial purposes or as a low-cost means of placer gold recovery, which releases it into the global atmosphere where it can eventually contaminate U.S. lakes and rivers and ocean currents. Mercury in water can then bio-accumulate in fish, becoming more concentrated as it moves up the food chain.
While global production of new mercury is down markedly since 2000, a ban might slow Chinese and Indian usage of mercury in industrial settings. China currently uses about 1,500 tons a year, of the 3,000 to 4,000 tons of new mercury produced each year, to make low-cost PVC plastic pipe. In the Americas, Brazilian gold miners also release large amounts of mercury by burning it to help recover placer gold.
The ban should have no negative effects on Alaska industry, but could well aid seafood in the future by markedly slowing the release of mercury where it can affect future seafood harvests. Already in recent years there have been warnings to discourage pregnant women and children from eating some seafood products because of the fear of mercury contamination.
“We in Alaska don’t have a problem with mercury in our seafood, and this bill will help keep it that way,” said Murkowski.