Great Salt Bay Sanitary District Superintendent Mary Bowers has taken it upon herself to monitor and document mercury before it gets into the water.

Bowers noted since the enactment of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Act initiative of 2003, the mercury level has risen steadily in local bodies of water.

The Clear Skies Act was opposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, by conservationist groups such as the Sierra Club, Congressman Harry Waxman of California, and others who all cite the act weakens controls on mercury pollution levels, compared to what would have been achieved by just stringently enforcing the existing Clean Air Act.

“It all started with a technology that enables us to test for mercury down to the parts per trillion level, when prior measurement was parts per million. At that level, mercury often doesn’t show up,” explained Bowers.

Some years ago, the state of Maine warned fish consumers about levels of mercury and the dangers the heavy metal poses to pregnant women and developing and growing children. Maine released recommended consumption guidelines, and then-governor Angus King vowed to learn from where the mercury comes.

Water treatment plants were charged with testing for mercury in the effluence (or treated water). Bowers took it upon herself to also test for mercury in influence water, that is, coming directly from the environment such as rain, fog, and sewerage. Over the years, Bowers has observed the amount of atmospheric mercury slowly rise, in direct relationship to the easing of clean air regulations and restrictions.

However, Bowers wasn’t alone in her observations and in March of 2005, nine states: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, California, and New Mexico, joined together and filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency seeking tougher mercury rules. The suit challenged an EPA rule that removes power plants from the list of pollution sources subject to stringent pollution controls under the federal Clean Air Act. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of uncontrolled mercury emissions, generating 48 tons of mercury emissions per year nationwide.

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