Seven States Develop Plan to Reduce Mercury Pollution in Northeast Waters

On April 11, seven states unveiled a draft plan to use provisions of the Clean Water Act to establish maximum levels of mercury for lakes and rivers in their jurisdictions.

The states -- New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont -- seek to compel the federal government to enact tougher standards on mercury emissions. The participating states believe that mercury deposition deserves to be a national priority, and requires federal programs to address it.

The intent of the states' draft Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is to create a starting place for initiatives to control atmospheric deposition to levels where fish consumption advisories are no longer necessary.

"New York and the New England states have made great strides in controlling mercury, but there is more that can and must be done," said Pete Grannis, commissioner of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). "This Northeast regional TMDL will help address the link between mercury emissions and mercury pollution in water and highlights the need for implementation of a comprehensive, nationwide mercury reduction strategy that would improve the natural resources not only in New York but also in all states."

In the Northeast, elevated levels of mercury in certain fish species, such as largemouth and smallmouth bass and walleye, are of great concern and have resulted in statewide fish-consumption advisories for more than 10,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and more than 46,000 river miles in the seven-state region. In New York, more than 80 waterbodies have restricted advisories for fish consumption based on elevated levels of mercury.

Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act provides that states designate TMDLs for waters listed as impaired. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet its water quality standards. The designation includes allocations on the amounts of a pollutant generated by each of the pollutant's sources.

The draft TMDL recognizes that the majority of mercury in state waters comes from out-of-state sources, officials said. Coal-fired power plants bring mercury to the region's waters through atmospheric deposition. The draft TMDL stipulates the amount by which mercury arriving in the region from out-of-state sources must be reduced if waters are to be removed from the impaired list and the fish consumption advisories rescinded.

The draft Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load report is available at http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dow/mercrytmdl.html.

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