Chapter 5


This chapter first discusses key regulatory standards and guidelines pertaining to exposures to mercury and acceptable levels of mercury in different environmental media. The significance of potential mercury risks in MA is then discussed in light of these standards. Specific emission control requirements and source reduction and recycling efforts to reduce mercury emissions in the Commonwealth are summarized. MADEP's overall policies to reduce the use of mercury through source reduction, coupled with strong recycling programs and use of state-of-the-art technology for treatment of emissions where this is not feasible and continued environmental monitoring of freshwater fish to minimize potential human exposures to mercury already in the environment, are discussed.

Recommended Exposure and Environmental Concentration Limits

The MADEP, MADPH, USEPA as well as other environmental and public health organizations have established a number of standards and guidelines for acceptable concentrations of mercury in various environmental media including water, soil, air and foods. These values have been established on the basis of mercury's potential to cause a variety of adverse effects. These are summarized in Table 5-1. Recommended limits for intakes of mercury by people have also been established and these are presented in Table 5-2.

These standards were developed using a variety of methods, all of which involve scientific determinations of the degree of harm likely to occur from exposure of people and/or other organisms to mercury by the most likely routes of exposure. In several cases, Massachusetts has relied upon data and standards developed by federal agencies intended to guide states in establishing standards. In other cases MADEP, through in-house studies conducted by the Office of Research and Standards (ORS), has developed its own standards or guidelines. When establishing standards and guidelines the MADEP, as well as other regulatory agencies, often use a risk assessment process to evaluate chemical hazards. This process is briefly described in the boxed text below. Basically, MADEP toxicologists and risk assessors evaluate the scientific information on a compounds toxicity based on the best available data. Where scientific uncertainty exists, health protective, scientifically defensible methods are used to qualitatively and/or quantitatively assess potential risks to people and the environment from potential exposures to toxic compounds. Since the science of toxicology and the art of risk assessment are rapidly progressing fields, regulatory agencies continuously review and update their evaluations. The key Massachusetts and national standards and guidelines pertaining to mercury and their basis are summarized briefly below.


In order to establish public health standards for mercury in environmental media, MADEP and other regulatory agencies have used risk assessment methodologies. This process is conducted in four steps:

  • Hazard Evaluation:
      -What information exists on the toxic effects of mercury?
      -Which organs or organ systems may be affected by mercury?
      -Is the toxicity different if exposure is through ingestion of mercury in fish, drinking of water with mercury, or inhalation of mercury vapor or particles?
      -Which of the forms of mercury is the most toxic?
      -Is mercury a carcinogen?

  • Dose-Response Evaluation:

      -Based on laboratory studies in animals or epidemiological or occupational studies in humans, what is the lowest dose of mercury that may cause adverse effects?
      -Have any studies indicated that there is a dose of mercury at which no adverse effects are observed?

  • Exposure Assessment:

      -How much mercury in fish, drinking water, or ambient air will a person be exposed to?
      -How many recreationally-caught fish do people eat in a year?
      -How much water will a person drink in a day?
      -How much air will a person breathe in a day?
      -For how may years will a person be exposed to the mercury?

  • Characterization of Risk/Standard Setting:

      -Using all the information generated in the first three steps, and using modifying factors to account for especially sensitive populations, calculate a standard that will limit mercury exposure to a level at which adverse effects are unlikely to occur.

Table 5-1
Limits for Mercury Concentrations in Various Environmental Media

Massachusetts Ambient Air Levels:
Allowable Ambient Limit (annual avg.) 0.07 micrograms(ug)/Cubic Meter (cu.m) 0.01 ug/cu.m 0.0014 ug/cu.m
Threshold Effects Exposure Limit (24-hour avg.) 0.14 ug/cu.m 0.14 ug/cu.m 0.003 ug/cu.m
USEPA Reference Concentration for Ambient Air 0.3 ug/cu.m
US NIOSH Air Threshold Limit Value (Occupational limit for long-term exposure) 50 ug/cu.m 100 ug/cu.m 10 ug/cu.m
ATSDR (draft) air concentration limit
for chronic duration exposure 0.014 ug/cu.m
for acute duration exposure 0.02 ug/cu.m
Massachusetts Residential Soil Standard (assuming ingestion by a pre-school child playing at home) 10 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) total Hg
Massachusetts Type I Sludge Standard 10 mg/kg total Hg
USEPA Sludge Standard 17 mg/kg total Hg
Massachusetts Drinking Water Standard (MCL) 0.002 mg/liter (l) total Hg
USEPA Drinking Water Standard (MCL) 0.002 mg/l total Hg
USEPA Ambient Water Quality Standard for human health, assuming ingestion of contaminated fish/shellfish 0.146 ug/l
(0.000146 mg/l)
Massachusetts limit for fish used as food by pregnant women 0.5 mg/kg (total mercury: almost all of which will be in methylated form)
US FDA limit for fish used as food 1 mg/kg

Table 5-2
Limits for Allowable Mercury Intakes

Revised USEPA Chronic Oral Reference Dose (1995) 0.0001 mg/kg/day
ATSDR draft allowable daily oral intakes:
for acute duration exposure: 0.007 mg/kg/day
for intermediate duration exposure 0.002 mg/kg/day 0.00012 mg/kg/day

Drinking Water

The MADEP has adopted the USEPA standard for mercury in drinking water. In drinking water, the total amount of mercury is limited to a level of 0.002 mg/l (2 ppb) (the Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL). This standard was established on January 30, 1991 (56 Federal Register 3526) and is based on the potential for inorganic mercury to cause kidney toxicity after exposure.

MCLs and Forms of Mercury

  • The MCL refers to total mercury.

  • Of the three chemical forms of mercury that occur in the environment, however, inorganic mercury is the predominant form found in water.

  • Because of their fundamental chemical properties, elemental and organic mercury are less soluble in water and are generally found in low concentrations in water.

MCLs are concentrations that have been determined to be acceptable (minimal risk of adverse effects) for adults consuming a full 2 liters of drinking water daily for a lifetime. In deriving the MCL, only 20% of the dose of mercury determined to be acceptable for adults is allowed to come from water. This Relative Source Contribution (RSC) factor accounts for the fact that people may be exposed to mercury from other sources including air, soil and foods. This is a health-protective adjustment in that only one fifth of the total "safe" dose is permitted to come from this source.

Ambient Air

MADEP has developed ambient air guidelines for the elemental and inorganic forms of mercury as well as for organic mercury in the form of methyl mercury. Two types of air guidelines have been developed for each form of mercury. These include a Threshold Effects Exposure Limit (TEL) based on consideration of acute and chronic health effects including developmental/reproductive effects and an Allowable Ambient Limit (AAL) which, in addition to the effects considered for the TEL, also incorporates available information on mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. The TEL is expressed as a 24-hour average and the AAL is expressed as an annual average.

The TELs and AALs for the various forms of mercury were derived using available toxicological information. As new toxicological information becomes available and verified by USEPA and MADEP toxicologists, MADEP, through ORS, will review and update these air guidelines.

The methods used to establish these guidelines incorporate many health protective criteria and were developed to be protective of the general public including children and other sensitive individuals. Similarly to the drinking water standard discussed above, derivation of the mercury TELs incorporates an adjustment factor for other possible routes of exposure to mercury besides inhalation. In the absence of chemical-specific, multimedia exposure information for the various forms of mercury, a default value of 20% was included in the derivation of the mercury TEL to represent the portion of the total allowable exposure to mercury that may come through inhalation.

TEL and AAL values are used to set limits on allowable mercury emissions from specific facilities (e.g., municipal waste combustors). In these evaluations ambient concentrations of mercury attributable to the particular emission source were estimated at its property boundary for an individual with maximum exposure, using sophisticated air dispersion models. These modeled concentrations are generally considered to be high end estimates of the possible air levels to which people might be exposed through inhalation. These modeled exposure concentrations were then compared to the mercury TELs and AALs to determine whether there might be any unacceptable risks associated with that particular source.


The Massachusetts residential soil cleanup standard for mercury was promulgated in the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP) 310 CMR 40.0975(6)(a), at a value of 10 mg/kg (or ppm). In setting this standard, MADEP considered, through a process of risk assessment, how and to what extent the most sensitive individuals - young children - might come into contact with mercury-containing soil. This level is set to be protective of activities typical of a residential setting, including playing in the yard on an ongoing basis. It accounts for dermal exposures and ingestion due to activities such as thumb and finger sucking by toddlers.

Fish For Human Consumption

The USFDA limit for mercury in fish for human consumption is 1 ppm. The MADPH, as well as many other public health agencies, rely upon the FDA 1 ppm level as the trigger for fish consumption advisories warning the general public not to consume any of the fish in question. For fish with mercury falling between 0.5 ppm and 1 ppm MADPH advises that the fish only be consumed for a limited number of meals (two) per month. For pregnant women, because of concerns over the sensitivity of the fetus, MADPH advises against any consumption of fish exceeding 0.5 ppm mercury (see appendix E for additional details). These levels were established based on human epidemiological data largely derived from poisoning epidemics as discussed in more detail in Appendix D.

Health Risks From Mercury in Massachusetts

Overall Risks

Deriving comprehensive quantitative estimates of the numbers of people adversely affected by mercury, and of the types of adverse health outcomes that they might experience due to overall emissions of this toxin in Massachusetts would require extensive modeling and/or monitoring of mercury releases, air concentrations and depositional patterns attributable to all sources. The parameters involved are complex. For example, to estimate risks from just one mercury source category due to potential contamination of freshwater fish would require modeling and monitoring of the specific source in question as well as consideration of inputs of mercury from other sources (including "imported" mercury derived from emissions in other states). Past mercury emissions, which provide for a continuing source of inputs (a reservoir effect) to freshwater bodies would also have to considered, as would rates of methylation, which may vary depending on a variety of environmental factors. Thus, comprehensive predictions of the numbers and types of adverse effects attributable to specific sources of mercury will require considerable additional research and analyses that are beyond the scope of this report.

Although it is currently not possible to predict source specific mercury risks comprehensively, the qualitative significance of mercury exposures in MA can be addressed by comparing mercury concentrations in various environmental media in the Commonwealth with the regulatory guidelines summarized previously. These comparisons may be made using measured concentrations (e.g. experimentally determined mercury levels in fish) or predicted values (e.g. as discussed above, modeled ground level air concentrations of mercury from MSWC emissions).

The most significant potential mercury risks in the Commonwealth are, as discussed in detail in Chapter 3, associated with consumption of freshwater fish. Fish from many waterbodies in Massachusetts have been shown to contain unsafe levels of methyl mercury and consumption of such fish is viewed as a potentially significant exposure pathway. MADPH and MADEP view fish contamination with mercury as a significant problem Statewide. Fish advisories are now in place for 37 waterbodies in MA and a Statewide advisory has been issued by the MADPH warning pregnant women to avoid eating freshwater fish caught in the Commonwealth. Individuals who are not aware of these advisories or rely on such fish a source of protein, may be at risk or may place their fetuses at risk.

The origins of mercury detected in specific environmental compartments, including freshwater fish, can not be precisely determined. Natural as well as manmade sources are likely to have both contributed to the observed contamination. Little can be done to remediate past releases of mercury and truly natural inputs of mercury to the biosphere are essentially not controllable. Since continuing inputs of mercury to the environment clearly add to the burden of this toxin already present, considerable regulatory emphasis has been placed on reducing emissions of this metal from human activities through emission control requirements, source reduction and recycling. Additional efforts in these areas may be needed to address mercury contamination of freshwater fish.

Fortunately, contamination of other environmental media appears to be less of a problem in MA. Evaluation of MADEP data indicate that no public water supplies in Massachusetts are known to contain mercury at concentrations that are above the drinking water standard. The concentrations of mercury in surface waters and in ambient air in Massachusetts are also believed to be below levels of direct concern to human health; mercury levels in the general atmosphere are low and, even at areas of maximal predicted impact from emissions from MSWCs, fall below health-based MADEP guidelines.

Risks Associated with Specific Sources of Mercury in MA

Based upon the analysis presented in Chapter 3 of this report, identified mercury sources in MA may release from 8,040-16,859 pounds of mercury per year with a best estimate of 10,845. The predominant sources of mercury releases to the biosphere in Massachusetts are likely to be:

Additionally, about 5% of yearly statewide emissions are predicted to be derived from municipal waste water related releases and 3% from other miscellaneous sources. Thus, in MA, most new mercury enters the general environment via air emissions from combustion sources.

Mercury emitted into the air may pose a health risk due to its inhalation directly from the air or via its deposition to land and surface waters where it may contaminate food supplies or drinking water. The potential for adverse health impacts from any specific atmospheric emission source of mercury will therefor be a function of the air concentrations of this metal associated with the source and the depositional patterns of the released mercury from air to land and to water, which can lead to secondary exposures- for example, from consumption of mercury-contaminated fish.

To evaluate inhalation exposures to mercury emitted from MSWCs in MA, MADEP has required modeling of their emissions to estimate ground level air concentrations of this metal. For MA MSWCs the mercury levels predicted using these models fall below the MADEP regulatory limits as established by the TEL and AAL values discussed above. Thus, these facilities do not pose a threat to public health due to inhalation exposures to mercury. However, although the predicted mercury inhalation risks from these facilities are minimal, several MSWCs will none-the-less need to further reduce emissions to meet the new federal emission requirements. As required in the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act this standard is based on Maximal Achievable Control Technology and is not based on potential inhalation risks.

Potential inhalation exposures from other mercury emissions in MA have not been modeled. It is, however, likely that ground level air concentrations of mercury attributable to other specific mercury sources would fall below those estimated for MSWCs; most other sources emit much less mercury on a per facility basis and the larger coal and oil fired utility boilers disperse their emissions over a wide area reducing local impacts.

Nationwide, few efforts to model or predict depositional impacts of individual mercury sources have been made. A collaborative research effort by the North East States for Coordinated Air Use Management organization (NESCAUM) is now underway to investigate overall mercury transport and deposition in the northeast. MADEP is a participant in this effort. At this time, however, no modeling has been completed with respect to regional atmospheric deposition of mercury within MA. Thus, potential effects on fish mercury concentrations due to specific mercury sources can not currently be predicted. In general, however, higher stacks and higher flue gas exit temperatures will lead to increased dispersion of emitted mercury and reduce local impacts. Shorter stacks and lower flue gas exit temperatures will lead to higher rates of deposition in areas closer to the source. Thus, it is likely that smaller facilities including some medical waste incinerators, and smaller coal and oil-fired plants may have greater in-State impacts compared to large facilities. It is important to note, however, that large facility mercury emissions, even if they primarily impact out-of-state receptors, still contribute to regional and global mercury loading.

Regional and global mercury inputs are significant when considering mercury. As discussed in Chapter 3, long-range transport of mercury occurs. Crude, preliminary estimates of average, overall mercury deposition in MA suggest that from 1,848 - 3,696 pounds of mercury may be entering the MA surface environment each year from atmospheric deposition of mercury. A large fraction of this total will likely have originated from out-of-state sources including recirculating historical emissions, natural sources and ongoing anthropogenic sources such as incinerators and coal and oil burning facilities.

Emission Control Requirements

Reductions of mercury emissions may be achieved by installing end-of-pipe controls (e.g. air pollution control devices) to capture mercury from an emission stream prior to its release. In addition, efforts can be made to reduce the amount of mercury actually entering the emission stream by source reduction efforts. Thirdly, capturing the mercury and recycling it may also effectively reduce its input to the general environment. State and Federal efforts to minimize mercury emissions have included a combination of all of these approaches.

Mercury emissions were initially regulated on a national level by USEPA under the 1970 Clean Air Act. In 1975, USEPA promulgated National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) for stationary sources which process mercury ore to recover mercury, use mercury chlor-alkali cells to produce chlorine gas and alkali metal hydroxide, and incinerate or dry wastewater treatment plant sludge (40 CFR 61 Subpart E). Wastewater sludge incinerators and dryers are the only source categories regulated by these standards that exist in Massachusetts. The standard, in 40 CFR 61.52(b), simply requires that emissions from sludge incinerators and dryers "shall not exceed 3200 grams of mercury per 24-hour period". No other mercury emitting source categories were regulated under the NESHAP program.

With the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA), Congress recognized that the NESHAP process did not adequately establish the timely control of hazardous air pollutants (HAPS). The 1990 CAAA provides a comprehensive strategy to control HAPs in general, with specific requirements for sources of mercury.

Section 112 of the 1990 CAAA sets forth requirements for HAPs. Mercury compounds are listed as one of the 189 HAPs for which USEPA must establish standards for major sources (potentially emitting 10 tons per year) and area sources (small sources that could present a threat of adverse effects to human health or the environment). Standards must be established for all source categories listed by EPA by the end of the year 2000. The standards established must represent Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) which is the maximum degree of reduction in emissions of the HAP taking into consideration the cost of achieving such emission reduction, and any non-air quality health and environmental impacts and energy requirements (Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990).

The CAAA also required USEPA to perform a study and report to Congress on the hazards of HAPs emitted from electric utility steam generating units by November 15, 1993 (Section 112 (n)(1)(A)). USEPA is to further regulate these units if the study shows such is necessary. An interim report was released in November, 1993. This study is commonly referred to as the "utility study" (Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990).

Pursuant to Section 112(n)(1)(B), USEPA was also required to study mercury emissions from electric utility steam generating units and other sources. A draft released by USEPA is titled Mercury Study Report To Congress and consists of seven volumes (USEPA, 1994). This document provides an inventory of nationwide mercury emissions, exposure and health effects, ecological assessment, human health and wildlife risks, and mercury control technology costs. Due to a variety of reasons this report has not been finalized.

Under Section 129 of the CAAA, USEPA was required to promulgate regulations that specifically control mercury emissions from new and existing MSWCs, MWIs, and other incinerators. USEPA recently established Hg emission regulations for MSWCs and has proposed new regulations for MWIs. According to USEPA, the following specific mercury emission requirements, for both new and existing units, represent MACT:

MSWC -0.080 mg/dscm at 7% oxygen or 85% reduction (Federal Register, September 20, 1994); and
MWI - 0.47 mg/dscm at 7% oxygen or 85% reduction (Federal Register February 27, 1995).

These limitations are both based upon activated carbon injection with subsequent high efficiency particulate control which together are estimated to remove greater than 90% of mercury from the flue gasses.

For existing units, a state's plan to implement the mercury requirements must be submitted to USEPA within one year of final promulgation by USEPA. MADEP is currently working on this plan. MSWCs have up to three years to comply after USEPA approval of the state plan. As discussed earlier in Chapter 3 and as shown in Figure 3-5 and Table 3-7, several MSWCs located in Massachusetts will need to reduce mercury emissions to meet the new standard.

Prior to the CAAA, USEPA had on December 20, 1989, proposed emission requirements for new and existing MSWCs. These rules indirectly regulated metals through control of particulate emissions only; no specific metals emission limitations were set. Since particulate controls are relatively ineffective at removing mercury from flue gasses these requirements are believed to have done little to reduce mercury emissions. USEPA, in proposing these standards, stated that "mercury emission data are highly variable and mechanisms of mercury emissions and control are not currently understood." However, USEPA recognized that "much of the mercury oxide contained in municipal solid waste was contained in household batteries" and therefore proposed a program be established to remove household batteries from municipal solid waste (Federal Register, December 20, 1989).

In finalizing the rule making on February 11, 1991, however, USEPA did not adopt a household battery separation program because it found that such programs often achieve low collection rates and because the use of mercury in batteries was declining (Federal Register, February 11, 1991). Reducing the mercury content of batteries and/or separating them from the waste stream do, however, constitute straightforward and direct approaches to reducing mercury emissions from MSWCs. As indicated in this report MADEP estimates that batteries continue to be a major source of mercury to MSW. For existing Massachusetts MSWCs, which may need to further reduce mercury emissions to comply with the newly proposed EPA standard, it may be cost-effective to pursue additional pollution prevention opportunities such as household battery separation programs or other efforts to reduce the mercury content of their wastestreams. MADEP has also supported the passage of legislation in MA that would increase opportunities for the collection and recycling of mercury containing button cell batteries and that would ban the sale of other mercury added batteries (see Appendix G for a more complete discussion of MADEP/EOEA positions regarding "battery legislation"). MADEP and EOEA will also continue and expand upon efforts to improve battery recycling in MA.

In Europe, the Member States of the European Union (EU) have established emission guidelines for member countries. Like the relationship between USEPA and the states, the member countries of the EU are free to set more stringent standards. The EU MSWC guideline for mercury is the combination of mercury and cadmium which limits emissions to no more than 0.2 mg/dscm. This compares to 0.012 mg/dscm at 7% O2 (0.09 at 12% O2) for the sum of the mercury and cadmium emission limits as proposed by USEPA. The Netherlands, however, has recently adopted a mercury limit of 0.065 mg/dscm corrected to seven per cent oxygen. Because test methods are different it is difficult to compare the European standards with the USEPA proposal (Federal Register, September 20, 1994).

In addition to Federal efforts, the states of Florida, Minnesota, and New Jersey have or are in the process of establishing MSWC mercury emission limits (for summary details refer to the Federal Register, dated September 20, 1994). Since 1995, Florida has required that facilities with mercury control equipment and acid gas scrubbers meet an emission limitation of 0.070 mg/dscm, corrected to 7% oxygen, or an 80% reduction (all of the states correct the emissions to seven per cent oxygen). For those facilities that choose to control mercury exclusively through waste separation, mercury emissions were limited to 0.14 mg/dscm after July 1, 1995 and to 0.070 after July 1, 1997. Minnesota requires quarterly testing that shows emissions no greater than 0.10 mg/dscm. The annual average of these tests, however, can show mercury emissions no greater than 0.060 mg/dscm. Finally, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection adopted a rule in 1994 to control mercury emissions from MSWCs. This rule requires that: 1) all MSWCs comply with an emission limit of 0.065 mg/dscm corrected to 7% oxygen by 1996; and, 2) on and after the year 2000 achieve either an emission limit of 0.028 mg/dscm or reduce mercury emissions by at least 80%.

In the case of Florida and Minnesota the mercury requirement for facilities that currently do not have acid gas controls was postponed until acid gas controls are required under EPA's proposal. It is also noted that the three states specify two different stack test methods.

Massachusetts was one of the earliest states to regulate mercury emissions from MWSCs having established standards in the late 1980s. Massachusetts has regulated mercury emissions from MSWCs using a different approach which is not directly comparable to those noted above. In Massachusetts, MSWCs are required by law to test emissions every nine months and demonstrate compliance with health protective ambient air concentration guidelines. MADEP has required that the facilities perform computer modeling of the stack emissions of each contaminant tested, including mercury, to predict ground level concentrations. These concentrations must be at or below the MADEP's health protective air concentration limits, the AAL's and TELs as described earlier in this chapter. These limits ensure that the public is not at risk of adverse health impacts from breathing the air and, since adopted, have also served to limit total mercury emissions during a period when few other states had taken action. Acceptable stack emissions using this approach are, however, higher than many of the recently established state limits noted above. With the newly established USEPA limits (requiring an 85% reduction or a level of 80 ug/dscm) MA facilities will in the near future be emitting levels of mercury similar to the other states discussed above. This federal standard will also require other states whose emissions may be impacting MA via air depositional processes to significantly reduce their emissions as well.

Mercury Source Reduction and Recycling

In addition to emission control requirements and limits, the MADEP has established policies to reduce the disposal of mercury as well as other toxic chemicals through recycling and source reduction. Consumer, medical and other commercial products together account for the largest overall share of mercury emissions in Massachusetts (i.e. via emissions from MSWC and MWI facilities). The optimal "Environmental Control Technology" for mercury found in these products is removing it from the products in the first place. Reducing such mercury use directly reduces the potential for emissions by product breakage as well as from product incineration or other disposal.

A number of states across the U.S. have passed legislation aimed at removing toxic heavy metals, including mercury, from the municipal waste stream, a significant overall source of mercury emitted from municipal waste combustors. These laws have focused on batteries and fluorescent lights, which have been identified as the two largest contributors of mercury to municipal solid waste (USEPA, 1992; USEPA, 1994; Hurd et al, 1992; Minnesota, 1991 and 1992). National action has also been taken. On 9/21/95 the U.S. Senate passed bill S619, which among other provisions banned the sale of mercury-oxide button batteries and required manufacturers to provide recycling information to consumers who purchase larger sized mercury batteries. A final version of this bill, the Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act, was signed by the President into law this May. The requirements of this Act should, if complied with, significantly reduce the levels of battery-derived mercury in MSW.

Initially prompted by State regulatory requirements, manufacturers of both batteries and electric lighting have reduced the amount of mercury used in their products over the past decade. However, as discussed in Chapter 3 and Appendix F, both batteries and fluorescent lights are estimated by MADEP to have comprised the largest contributors of mercury to MSW in 1995 and are likely to continue to for several years.

To summarize various sate battery bills, the Department is aware of eight states with laws which:

These state laws have a variety of requirements. Sales bans on mercuric-oxide industrial batteries and on mercuric-oxide button batteries are in place in Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont (Maine's sales ban took effect on January 1, 1996). Connecticut requires retailers and battery manufacturers to take back mercuric-oxide batteries, and Rhode Island requires distributors and battery manufacturers to collect mercury-containing batteries. Disposal bans on industrial and button mercuric-oxide batteries are in place in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire; New York does not permit them to be burned. Maine bars institutions from disposing of mercuric oxide batteries and requires them to collect mercuric and rechargeable batteries. Vermont requires battery manufacturers to collect all waste batteries and label button cells; it prohibits disposal of mercuric batteries by government, industrial, and medical users. The national legislation recently signed into law extended many of these provisions to all States but did not require manufacturers to support recycling of mercury containing button cells.

In Massachusetts, the Legislature considered two "battery" bills during the 1995 session and a compromise bill has recently been submitted. These bills aim to reduce heavy metals in the waste stream, again with a focus on batteries. Appendix G contains MADEP/EOEA's testimony supporting a battery bill in the Commonwealth. Since MADEP estimates that button cells will contribute several hundred pounds of mercury to MSW each year in the future, MADEP and EOEA continue to support MA legislation to require their recycling until such time as mercury-free button cells predominate in the market-place.

In order to reduce environmental and public health risks, MADEP and EOEA believe it is important to educate the public about toxins and encourage the collection of specific materials containing mercury and other toxic metals such as cadmium. MADEP has compiled two information sheets on Battery and Light recycling which are available from the department free of charge. EOEA and MADEP are also funding a pilot recycling project for communities in Barnstable County, including Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee, Barnstable, and Yarmouth. These communities and SEMASS are also contributing funds to this project.

The Cape Cod communities will implement a plan under which button and nickel-cadmium batteries can be returned after use to their point of sale. In addition, the communities will establish recycling collection centers for spent fluorescent lamps from schools and municipal offices. The mercury and cadmium from collected batteries and fluorescent lamps can then be recycled rather than disposed of in municipal solid waste. The results of this project will be shared with other municipalities with the intention that it will encourage others to embark on such recycling efforts for batteries, fluorescent lamps and other products.

MADEP has also developed and is implementing a battery recycling policy that encourages the collection and ultimate recycling of these mercury containing products. It is anticipated that recycling efforts will prevent a significant amount of mercury as well as other heavy metals from entering MSWCs or landfills. In response to requests by firms interested in operating battery collection and recycling programs in the Commonwealth, this policy established guidelines for the collection, storage and transport of mercury containing batteries. It also clarifies and simplifies handling and reporting provisions required under State and Federal hazardous waste regulations.

Massachusetts is only one of a handful of states to have developed such provisions for the collection of batteries, and convenient recycling programs targeting consumers and businesses are now being implemented in Massachusetts. A total of more than 45 Massachusetts municpalities are currently participating in button battery collection programs. For example, Wheelabrator Environmental Systems which operates municipal solid waste combustion facilities in Millbury, Saugus and North Andover, has been offering button battery collection programs in the towns serviced by these facilities. Collection boxes are placed in schools, nursing homes, pharmacies and electronics stores. Wheelabrator then sends the batteries for recycling to MERCO in NY. A similar battery collection program is also in operation at the Springfield Resource Recovery Facility. SEMASS also plans a similar program for its service area.

Batteries are also being collected from some institutions such as hospitals, where mercuric-oxide batteries, which contain up to 40% mercury, are commonly used. Anecdotal information from several Boston area hospitals reveals that "take-back" agreements with battery suppliers have been established. When new batteries are delivered, the hospitals return old, used batteries to the retailer for recycling or hazardous waste disposal.

Fluorescent and other high intensity electric lighting fixtures also contain significant amounts of mercury. Makers of fluorescent lights have been able to reduce the amount of mercury present in each bulb. However, that "gain" is being somewhat "offset" by an increase in the sales and use of these bulbs, which has occurred because they use electricity more efficiently than incandescent bulbs. Such efficiency indirectly reduces several forms of air pollution, since less fuel is consumed to produce the needed electricity. This energy efficiency gain has prompted the USEPA, through its "Green Lights" program to urge large and small businesses to convert to fluorescent bulbs. Unfortunately, while energy savings are achieved, more mercury is ultimately used.

Fortunately, the recycling of fluorescent bulbs is a growing environmental business area which can prevent mercury from entering the general environment. A number of fluorescent light recycling operations have recently been initiated around the country, including one facility in Massachusetts. In an effort to increase the recycling of these lights, MADEP has implemented procedures similar to those embodied in the battery recycling policy described above. Preliminary data indicates that MADEP's efforts to promote the collection of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps have been positive although there is much room for improvement; from 2 to 3 million of the approximately 12 million lamps disposed of in Massachusetts each year are currently being collected.

Other states are also focusing on fluorescent lights as a source of mercury in municipal solid waste. For example, Minnesota has investigated approaches to limiting mercury emissions from such lights (Minnesota, 1993) and has banned the disposal of these bulbs, mandating recycling, instead. Curbside programs in this state now include fluorescent light pick-up.

Recycling and shopping for environmental friendly products are important facets in reducing mercury pollution. Each citizen of the Commonwealth can help in these efforts by striving to buy only mercury-free batteries and by recycling batteries, fluorescent lights and other products that contain mercury.

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