, October 15, 2008 (ENS) - A bill introduced by Senator Barack Obama that will help protect Americans and people around the world from mercury poisoning by banning the export of elemental mercury from the United States, was signed into law last night by President George W. Bush.
Senator Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, said, "The president's approval of this bipartisan bill is an important victory for millions of the world's most vulnerable citizens who are exposed to the harmful effects of mercury every day."
"Exposure to mercury leads to serious developmental problems in children as well as problems affecting vision, motor skills, blood pressure, and fertility in adults," said Obama. "Despite our country's improved efforts to contain and collect mercury over the years, we remain one of the world's leading exporters of this dangerous product, so I am proud this bill will finally ban mercury exports."
S. 906, the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008, prohibits the transfer of elemental mercury by federal agencies, bans U.S. export of elemental mercury by 2013, and requires the Department of Energy to designate and manage an elemental mercury long-term disposal facility.
The Mercury Export Ban Act won support from a wide spectrum of interests, from environmentalists to the American Chemistry Council.
"Today we have won a momentous victory for public health that will save lives both here and abroad," said Susan Keane, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Banning the export of mercury will substantially reduce mercury contamination in fish, prevent the contamination of our water, and shield our children from a dangerous chemical."
Don't try this at home. Exposure to elemental mercury is dangerous. (Photo credit unknown)
"Those involved overcame a difficult political climate to enact bipartisan legislation that will benefit millions of people around the globe," said Keane. "This is no small feat, and I commend them for their hard work."
American Chemistry Council President and CEO Cal Dooley said, "What makes this legislation unique is that it not only reflects support of both Democrats and Republicans, it also reflects what is possible when a broad-based coalition of stakeholder interests comes together. The American Chemistry Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Council of the States, the Chlorine Institute, Inc., and the National Mining Association successfully worked together for many months to help enact this legislation to ban exports of elemental mercury from the United States by January 1, 2013."
The Mercury Export Ban Act puts an end to a vicious cycle of poison, Keane explained. While this dangerous neurotoxin is being phased out by industry and the government here in the United States, surplus mercury is shipped overseas to developing countries, where it is released from highly polluting industries, she said.
"Not only is the air and water in those importing countries contaminated with concentrations of mercury that would not be tolerated in the United States, the mercury can also travel for thousands of miles and can settle right back here in the United States, poisoning Americans mainly through consumption of contaminated fish," Keane said.
The law, signed by President Bush and passed by the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities, now requires that all mercury in the United States remain here, where it can be managed according to U.S. laws.
It prohibits the departments of Defense and Energy from exporting their huge accumulated stockpiles of mercury.
The bill also directs the Department of Energy to begin operating a long-term storage and management facility for excess mercury.
"I am pleased that President Bush has signed this important legislation which will slow needless mercury emissions, especially in the developing world," said Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican. who joined Obama in introducing the bill.
"Given our expanding knowledge about the health impacts of elemental mercury when it enters the atmosphere, it only makes sense to take reasonable steps now to safeguard the environment from the release of mercury that can affect fish and potentially those who eat fish," she said.
"Mercury is a potent neurotoxin hazardous to human health, especially for infants, children, and women who are pregnant or nursing," said Congressman Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.
"Maine people should be able to eat the fish they purchase in the supermarkets," he said. "We still have much to do to end mercury pollution, and I will continue to fight for passage of my legislation to establish a nationwide mercury pollution monitoring system and the legislation I support requiring utilities to reduce their mercury emissions."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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