TRENTON, New Jersey, April 23, 2007 (ENS) – In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has affirmed the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations to protect people from the impacts of mercury emissions from iron and steel melters.
The decision, released by the court April 13, allows the state to move forward with its efforts to address four of the largest in-state sources of mercury – iron and steel melters, coal-burning power plants, municipal solid waste incinerators, and medical waste incinerators.
On November 4, 2004, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, issued the first regulations ever to control mercury emissions from iron and steel melters.
The only prior controls on mercury emissions were in the melters’ federal operating permits, which are specific to each facility and widely different. None of the iron and steel facilities in New Jersey is currently covered by federal regulation.
The Steel Manufacturers Association, a national association representing iron and steel melters, and Gerdau Ameristeel, of Raritan, the owner of two New Jersey facilities, challenged the regulations. They claimed that the requirements were too stringent, but the court disagreed, finding that the state had acted well within its “broad authority to issue health-based regulations.”
Iron and steel melters, the largest New Jersey-based source of mercury emissions, emit an estimated 1,000 pounds of mercury into New Jersey’s environment every year.
State Attorney General Stuart Rabner said, “This decision confirms the state’s authority to protect the health of our citizens by enacting tough rules to reduce dangerous mercury pollution.”
The court decision boosts the state’s efforts to take mercury out of the environment by regulating all four of the largest sources.
The DEP estimates the November 2004 regulations will achieve an estimated 85 percent reduction of overall mercury emissions in New Jersey by requiring:
* 75 percent reductions of mercury emissions from the state’s six iron and steel melters by 2009.
* 90 percent reductions of mercury emissions from the state’s 10 coal-fired power plants by 2007, or by 2012 if the plants also take action to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
* Reductions of mercury emissions from the state’s five municipal solid waste incinerators of 95 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2011.
* Stringent emission rate limits for the three medical waste incinerators operating the state.
In addition to the state regulations, the New Jersey attorney general filed suit on behalf of the state last year in federal appeals court challenging a rule issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that removed power plants from the list of pollution sources subject to mercury pollution controls under the federal Clean Air Act.
New Jersey is leading a coalition of 16 states that is challenging the federal mercury rule. The U.S. EPA rule set up a cap-and-trade plan to address mercury from power plants that contained much weaker requirements than New Jersey’s own rules.
DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson said. “Cap and trade does not work for contaminants such as mercury, which can have serious local health impacts.”
Exposure to the most toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. However, fish advisories, which have been adopted by EPA, are not an adequate substitute for appropriate regulation of mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act, which are intended to prevent mercury from entering the air and being deposited in lakes, rivers and streams where it enters the bodies of fish.
In New Jersey has mercury consumption advisories for at least one species of fish in almost every body of water in the state.
Scientists estimate up to 600,000 U.S. children are born each year with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in the womb.