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GLIN==> Department of Defense Mercury sale

NOVEMBER 16, 2006
2:49 PM

CONTACT: Natural Resources Defense Council 
Federal Agency Threatens to Dump Toxic Mercury Stockpile on Open Market; Experts Warn Potent Toxin Would Boomerang Back to U.S. Dinner Plates 
Sen. Obama, Health Advocates Urge Energy Department to Keep Mercury in Domestic Storage, Safely Away from Global Chemical Bazaar

WASHINGTON - November 16 - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is considering selling some 1,300 tons of surplus mercury on the international market, prompting urgent warnings from health organizations that the toxic metal would easily find its way back into the domestic food chain from the developing world where it's typically used today. 

Word of the possible sale also sparked a formal request by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to the agency to keep the mercury safely in storage and out of the environment.

The senator was joined by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Mercury Policy Project in warning that U.S. mercury exports will "boomerang" back to the United States. Mercury exports often go to poorly regulated industries in developing countries, which release it into the atmosphere. Some of that air pollution wafts over the ocean and back to the United States, contaminating ocean and freshwater fish.

"There is no question that mercury from this sale would find its way up the food chain, onto our plates, and into our bodies," said Dr. Linda Greer, an environmental toxicologist and director of NRDC's Environmental Health Program. "Inviting less developed countries to a close-out sale on surplus American poison is sheer lunacy given what we know about how easily mercury moves around the globe."

Prenatal and infant mercury exposure can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. Even in low doses, mercury may affect a child's development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities. In adults, it can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure, and cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and other problems. Growing evidence suggests exposure to mercury may also lead to heart disease.

The DOE stockpile is more than eight times the amount exported in 2004 by all U.S. companies combined. Once used in weapons and other energy-related technologies, the mercury is now obsolete for DOE functions and no longer of any use to the government.

In a letter this week to DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman, Sen. Obama strongly urged DOE to continue to secure its mercury stockpiles in long-term storage. "Given that mercury is a trans-boundary pollutant that is deposited both locally and globally," he wrote, "any strategy to reduce mercury in the environment must also include reducing the volume of mercury traded and sold in the world market." (For a copy of the letter, click here.)

Currently, most of the DOE's surplus mercury is stored at the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Administration site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

NRDC and the Mercury Policy Project urged DOE to follow the lead of the Department of Defense (DOD), which, after a thorough review, opted to store rather than sell its nearly 5,000 tons of surplus mercury. The two organizations also support a bill introduced this summer by Sen. Obama that would ban U.S. mercury exports by 2012.

"We've got to stop the cycle of toxic mercury trade that winds up contaminating the fish we eat," said Dr. Greer.

Mercury also poses a substantial direct health risk to workers around the world, said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "As many as 15 million gold miners in more than 40 countries, for example, are at risk from high-concentration mercury vapors and mercury intoxication, which can lead to severe nervous system poisoning," he said. "The U.S. government has a moral obligation to restrict its exports to developing countries, as the European Union recently proposed to do by 2011."



New at MercuryPolicy.org

11/13/06 Today, US Senator Barack Obama sent a <http://www.mercurypolicy.org/new/documents/MercuryObamaDOELetter111306.pdf>letter to US Dept. of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman requesting clarification on recent reports that DOE is considering the sale of its 1300+ tons of its surplus mercury currently stored at its Oak Ridge, TN facility. "Given that mercury is a trans-boundary pollutant that is deposited both locally and globally, any strategy to reduce mercury in the environment must also include reducing the volume of mercury traded and solid in the world market," states the letter from Senator Obama. Senator Obama has expressed <http://obama.senate.gov/issues/environment/index.html>concerns about global mercury issues and has introduced the <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:s.3627:>Mercury Market Minimization Act (S. 3627), which would ban the export of surplus mercury from the US, similar to the proposal to ban mercury exports described below by the European Commission. The EC recently hosted an international conference on managing international supply and demand of mercury (see <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/conf_prog.htm>online presentations), including a <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/pdf/conf/bender.pdf>presentation from MPP director Michael Bender. Policy makers, industry representatives, non-governmental organizations and scientists participated in this event. The conference brought together experts and stakeholders from around the world to discuss, in an open dialogue, the way forward to reduce mercury supply and demand.

10/31/06 As the U.S. considers surplus mercury issues, NGOs welcomed an <http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/10/26/business/EU_FIN_EU_Mercury_Ban.php>EU regulation to ban mercury exports and ensure safe storage of surplus mercury so that this dangerous neurotoxin <http://www.mercurypolicy.org/new/documents/EC_Export_Ban_1006.pdf>will not re-enter the global market. The <http://europa.eu.int/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/06/1481&type=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en>proposed EU export ban sends a clear message to world governments and the <http://www.chem.unep.ch/mercury/GC23-results.htm>upcoming UNEP Governing Council meeting in February 2007 that mercury exports should be curtailed globally, say NGOs. Mercury trade to over 50 developing countries, <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/index.htm>according to EU reports exposes miners to severe health impacts when used in gold mining and also pollutes the global environment, <http://www.unido.org/doc/44254>according to the UNIDO Global Mercury Project . "We've got to stop the cycle of toxic trade and contamination which ends up polluting our lunch sandwiches and dinners in the US," said Michael Bender of MPP and Zero Mercury Working Group (see <http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/oct2006/2006-10-30-03.asp>coverage). "The Commission recognized that it is very important that mercury supply and demand are addressed simultaneously." The U.S. EPA has stated that it will initiate discussions on the surplus mercury issue in its Roadmap on Mercury in 2006. "Ultimately, it will be important to look at ways to permanently "retire" non-federally owned or managed commodity-grade mercury that will eventually have little or even negative economic value," states the <http://www.epa.gov/mercury/pdfs/FINAL-Mercury-Roadmap-6-29.pdf>Roadmap. The Department of Defense has <http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/2004/March/Day-26/i6435.htm>decided to permanently store, rather than sell, over 4,000 tons of surplus mercury.
Michael Bender, Director
Mercury Policy Project/
Zero Mercury Working Group
1420 North Street
Montpelier, VT USA 05602
Tel: +802-223-9000

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