DEP Meets to Discuss Mercury Level Reductions

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida


Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

Florida environmental officials met Tuesday with stakeholders in Tallahassee to review a revised plan to reduce mercury working its way through the food chain, the latest stop in a statewide tour to finalize an effort begun more than a decade ago.

Speaking to a dozen or so interested parties, Department of Environmental Protection officials gave a broad outline of efforts to set mercury emissions standards from manmade sources to comply with a 1999 consent decree forged between federal officials and Earthjustice, which sued over a lack of progress in reducing levels of the toxic metal.

About 70 percent of mercury emissions come from manmade sources such as coal-burning power plants, cement factories and other manufacturing activities. Despite dramatic decreases in U.S. emissions, manufacturing and energy production in emerging nations and China have hampered efforts to reduce global levels, said DEP researcher Xueqing Gao.

Mercury accumulates in fish, which is then eaten by humans. Too much mercury causes a series of ills affecting people's kidneys, livers, lungs and brains. Child-bearing women and children are especially vulnerable.

"It is a global issue, a global problem," said Trina Vielhauer, air regulations bureau chief for DEP. "It is not only a Florida problem."

The purpose of the statewide standards is to establish the allowable limits of mercury in Florida?s fresh and marine waters to restore levels that are low enough to avoid endangering human health. To accomplish that goal, state officials estimate that mercury emissions from manmade sources would have to be reduced by about 85 percent, Gao estimated.

Vielhauer and a handful of DEP specialists are going around the state to put finishing touches on a proposed plan to identify reliable testing protocols and use them to set limits on water bodies. It's the second statewide series of workshops, the first of which began last month.

"We hope that we have produced work that can be used across the country and around the world," Vielhauer said.

The group plans to travel to Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota to wrap up the public meetings. Written comments and suggestions will be received for another month before the file is closed.

The final plan will be forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is scheduled to adopt the new requirements in September.

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