The Department of Energy will consider the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as one of seven possible sites for long-term storage of the nation’s elemental mercury, according to a notice Thursday in the Federal Register.
The nation could have 8,300 to 11,000 tons of mercury from private sources that would be eligible for storage over 40 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The DOE is looking for storage sites after the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 prohibited the export of mercury beginning in 2013 and required the agency to have sites ready to manage and store mercury generated in the U.S.
Congress found that the free trade of elemental mercury on the world market, at relatively low prices and in ready supply, encourages the continued use of mercury outside of the United States. Banning its export could decrease the availability of it and encourage developing countries to switch to affordable mercury alternatives.
Mercury is highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and wildlife, the 2008 act said. The use of mercury in the United States is declining but as many as 10 percent of women here of childbearing age have mercury in their blood at a level that could put a baby at risk.
The DOE plans to prepare an environmental impact statement to decide which site or combination of sites should be used to store mercury. A draft study is expected to be issued this fall.
Sites being considered besides Hanford include the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado; the Idaho National Laboratory; Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada; Kansas City Plant in Missouri; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Waste Control Specialists in Texas.
The DOE already stores about 1,300 tons of mercury in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The Department of Defense also stores about 4,800 tons at various locations.
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