The land of the free
The US has effectively managed to control mercury
pollution in its backyard
The US is the worlds largest user of mercury,
annually consuming 372 tonnes. However, through rigorous regulation of products and
processes, it ensures that mercury does not get into its environment.
Mercury-containing products are regulated in several ways. At a federal level, the Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and
Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) have effectively eliminated mercury from various products. In recent
years, a number of states have adopted notification and labeling requirements on the
mercury content of particular products to keep consumers more informed. Sale of various
mercury-containing products for which alternatives were deemed readily available, such as
thermometers, dairy manometers, novelty items (toys, shoes), switches in automobiles, and
thermostats have also been prohibited. Concentration limits have been set for batteries
and packaging processes, mercury-containing products are segregated from the solid waste
stream and ultimately recycled, and state-sponsored collection programmes for thermometers
and dental inventories have effectively been put in place.
Wastewater point sources: Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations specify technology-based
effluent limits for mercury discharges from different industries.
Air point sources: The CWA also regulates mercury in
source categories using Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards.
Chlor-alkali industry: Emissions have been limited to a
maximum of 2,300 grams/24 hours. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a
rule that would further limit mercury emissions from plants that produce chlorine using
the mercury cell method.
Energy production: Regulations
have been promulgated for mercury MACT regulation in energy production by 2004.
Waste treatment and incineration
Municipal waste combustor plants: New source performance standards and emission guidelines
have been made applicable to municipal waste combustors. The mercury air emissions
standard for new and existing plants is 0.08 mg/day/m3 at 7 per cent oxygen.
|Some chlor-alkali facilities
in the US are shipping their waste to Canada or elsewhere for disposal Beware of the
Medical waste incinerators: The EPA finalised new source
performance standards and emission guidelines for medical waste incinerators in 1997,
limiting emissions from new incinerators. Several states, including New York, California
and Texas, have adopted strict rules.
Hazardous waste incinerators: In 2002, the EPA
promulgated interim emission standards for hazardous waste incinerators, hazardous waste
burning cement kilns and hazardous waste burning lightweight aggregate kilns under the
joint authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Sludge from industries: Limits have been set for sludge disposal.
Disposal and Recycling
Waste disposal: RCRA regulations outline specific classification and disposal requirements
for products and wastes that contain mercury. These regulations are applicable to
facilities that generate mercury-containing waste. RCRA regulations also specify disposal
requirements for individual waste. All mercury-bearing waste are subject to land disposal
restrictions. Their mercury concentration must be below the regulatory concentration level
before they are disposed. For some types of waste, the regulations require specific care,
such as incineration or thermal treatment. In other cases, only a maximum mercury
concentration is required, and any treatment method may be used. As a result of recently
imposed land disposal restrictions on chlor-alkali wastes, some facilities are building
their own mercury recovery facilities, whereas others are shipping their wastes to Canada
or elsewhere for disposal.
Product waste disposal: The RCRA regulates product
disposal and recycling options for mercury containing products. Hazardous discarded
products are subject to storage, transportation, and permit requirements. Currently,
thermostats and fluorescent lamps are included in a "Universal Waste Rule" that
eases RCRA restrictions on hazardous waste management and enables states to set up special
collection programmes. This Universal Waste Rule is designed to reduce the amount of
hazardous waste in the municipal solid waste stream and encourage the recycling and proper
disposal of some common hazardous wastes.
Universal waste comprises items commonly thrown into the
trash by households and small businesses. In July 1999, the EPA added mercury-containing
lamps to this waste rule, which already covered batteries, thermostats, and pesticides.