, August 25, 2009 (ENS) - Western Governors say they are concerned that five of seven areas identified as potential sites for the storage of mercury are located in Western states and urged the U.S. Department of Energy to do a comprehensive assessment that includes risks and impacts related to transportation.
Mercury is a dense, silver-colored metallic element that is liquid at room temperature. It is highly toxic to humans, ecosystems, and wildlife.
The Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 requires the Energy Department to provide a storage facility for long-term management and storage of the nation's supply of elemental mercury. The facility must be designated by January 1, 2010, and operations must begin by January 1, 2013. On that date, a ban on export of mercury from U.S. takes effect.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who chairs the Western Governors' Association, and Vice Chairman Idaho Governor Butch Otter wrote Monday to the Energy Department as part of the scoping process underway to identify potential sites for the facility.
"The West shoulders a disproportionate share of the nation's burden of storing or disposing of the hazardous materials that have been generated by the nation's weapons complex and other commercial activities," the governors said.
Elemental mercury stored at the Defense National Stockpile Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia (Photo courtesy DNSC)
The sites proposed for a long-term mercury storage facility are, from west to east - Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada, Idaho National Laboratory, Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado, Waste Control Specialists in Texas, Kansas City Plant in Missouri, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
"We are concerned that in this current proposal for storing mercury, five of the seven sites proposed in DOE's notice of intent are located in Western States," the governors wrote. "The West is willing to do its share but the region should not become the dumping ground for all of the nation's waste problems."
The governors said regardless of where the proposed mercury storage facility is sited, the transportation impacts from moving large quantities of mercury will affect many Western states.
"We urge DOE to expand the scope of the environmental impact statement to include a comprehensive assessment of transportation impacts, including a thorough assessment of the risks and impacts associated with cross-country shipments of large quantities of mercury," the letter states.
"Any transportation program to move the mercury to the selected storage site must require an effective and acceptable transportation safety program which, at its core, should involve planning and consultation with the states," the governors wrote.
They pointed to the transportation system that was developed for shipments of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico as an example of a successful transportation model.
At this time, energy officials say, no decision has been made as to how much elemental mercury would be stored in the new facility, which could cover as much as 10 acres.
Currently, the Energy Department stores 1,200 metric tons of elemental mercury at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee. In addition, the Defense Department stores 4,400 metric tons of mercury.
The EPA estimates that between 7,500 and 10,000 metric tons of mercury from industry sources would need storage over the next 40 years.
The Energy Department's Environmental Management organization is responsible for site selection and construction, while the department's Legacy Management oganization is responsible for long-term storage.
Legacy Management has proposed constructing a new, energy efficient storage facility at the department's disposal site in Grand Junction, Colorado.
An EIS scoping meeting for the proposal was held on July 21 in Grand Junction. The Energy Department has had informal discussions with the city, county, state, and local business leaders during the process, and formal public comments were accepted through August 14.
The EIS proposal does include study of the potential effects on public health from construction, operation, and transportation of a long-term mercury storage facility.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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