WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act, bipartisan legislation that would establish a national mercury monitoring network to protect human health and the environment.

“Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that poses a serious threat to our health. Despite recent progress in reducing mercury pollution, far too many parents discover each year that their child may have long-term neurological impairments as a result of exposure to unsafe levels of mercury,” said Senator Carper. “Knowing how much mercury is present in our environment is critical to addressing this problem, which is why I am proud to reintroduce the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act with Senator Collins. Our bipartisan legislation would build on current monitoring efforts and create a nationwide mercury monitoring system to better protect communities across our country from mercury pollution.”

“Mercury is one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants, affecting the senses, brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and liver. It poses a particular risk to children and pregnant women, causing an elevated risk of birth defects and problems with motor skills,” said Senator Collins. “In Maine, some of our lands and bodies of water face higher mercury pollution compared to the national average. Maine has been called the ‘tailpipe of the nation,’ as the winds carry pollution, including mercury, from the west into Maine. This bipartisan legislation would establish a comprehensive national monitoring network, helping to protect human health and track the effect of emissions reductions.”

“Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that is detrimental to health," said Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. "Mercury is of particular concern to infant health as it can lead to developmental birth defects and interfere with neurological development, even from exposure while in the womb. Combined with efforts to reduce air toxics emissions at the Environmental Protection Agency, this legislation will improve health outcomes for some of the most vulnerable populations."

“We commend Senators Collins' and Carper's continued commitment to protect the health of all Americans through reintroduction of the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act,” said Janice R. Lachance, Interim Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “AGU’s community spans countless disciplines and our member scientists working at the intersection of the environment and public health, can attest to the negative impacts of mercury exposure and the importance of monitoring mercury in air, water, and living organisms that this legislation aims to achieve.”

“The U.N.’s global mercury treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, aims to protect human and environmental health from emissions and releases of mercury that stem from human activities such as burning coal or small-scale artisanal gold mining. Long-term mercury monitoring—locally, regionally, and globally—is critical to measuring the treaty’s effectiveness over time,” said David C. Evers, Ph.D., executive director of Biodiversity Research Institute and leading mercury scientist. “The legislation introduced by Senators Collins and Carper allows the U.S. to take a leadership role in generating a comprehensive long-term mercury-monitoring program that will also benefit the entire global community.”

“There is no known safe level of mercury exposure,” said The Rev. Mitch Hescox, President of The Evangelical Environmental Network. “Mercury easily transfers across a mother’s placenta to her unborn child or through breast milk to a newborn. Establishing a national mercury monitoring system is the only way to first detect and then mitigate mercury’s continuing threat to our children’s right to an abundant life. As with most toxins, environmental justice and frontline communities remain the most impacted, largely due to little to no monitoring. This legislation would right a wrong long in the making and begin the process of guaranteeing all ‘the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.’”

Mercury, a powerful toxin, poses a serious threat to our health and environment, especially for pregnant women and children. Each year, an estimated 100,000-200,000 children born in the United States are exposed to levels of mercury in the womb that are high enough to impair neurological development and cause problems with motor skills. While mercury exposure has gone down as mercury emissions in the United States have declined, levels remain high.

The Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act would:

  • Direct the Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other appropriate agencies to establish a national mercury monitor program to measure and monitor mercury in watersheds, surface water, fish and wildlife, and the atmosphere;
  • Establish a scientific advisory committee to advise on the establishment, site selection, measurement, recording protocols, and operations of the monitoring program;
  • Establish a centralized database for existing and newly collected environmental mercury data that can be accessed on the Internet and is comprised of data that is compatible with similar international efforts;
  • Require a report to Congress every two years on the program, including trends, and an assessment of the reduction in mercury deposition rates that need to be achieved to prevent adverse human and ecological effects every four years; and,
  • Authorize $95 million over three years for these purposes.

The full text of the bill is available here.