EPA CALLS MISSING MERCURY AN "ENIGMA" WASHINGTON (Thurs., May 20) – U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.), Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and a bipartisan group of fifteen other senators Thursday urged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Leavitt to take immediate action and investigate the whereabouts of 65 tons of mercury that has gone unaccounted for by chlor-alkali plants, facilities that produce chlorine and caustic co-products using an outdated method using mercury. In a letter to the EPA, the senators expressed their concern that EPA's December 19, 2003, rule that regulates toxic mercury air emissions from chlor-alkali plants has weakened regulations on these facilities that were adopted in the 1970s and does not adequately protect public health and the environment. The letter highlights statements made by the EPA during its rulemaking process that said more than 65 tons of mercury a year goes unaccounted for from nine plants that still use an outdated mercury-based process to manufacture chlorine. The EPA described this missing mercury as “somewhat of an enigma”, and rather than investigate the toxin’s fate, the agency relied on poorly documented claims by industry that this mercury is being retained by plant equipment and not escaping into the environment. “The EPA has again favored industry over its mission to protect public health”, said Leahy, a longtime leader in the Senate on reducing mercury emissions. “This is yet another case where the Bush Administration has rolled back an environmental regulation and developed a new one that falls short of what should be done to protect the American people and the environment. The failure to account for the whereabouts of such a large amount of a highly toxic pollutant is a sign of this Administration’s apathy towards policing polluters.” “It is unconscionable that such a vast quantity of mercury is missing,” said Boxer. “Also missing from this Administration is a plan to protect the public health from this poison.” “What we do know is that mercury is a potentially deadly neuro-toxin, what we don't know is where it went,” said Jeffords, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “These chlor-alkali plants have a reasonable duty to account for all of their substantial mercury emissions. No one simply loses 65 tons of dangerous material. That's not acceptable.” The Senators asked EPA to specify the amount of mercury that is unaccounted for from each of the nine chlor-alkali plants still using mercury cell technology, the source of this information, and all analyses of the estimated risks to public health and the environment from mercury emissions leaving these plants. In addition, they requested that EPA provide a timeline for reconsidering the final rule and describe specifically the actions EPA will take to correct the flaws in its current rule. The other senators signing the letter were Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Leahy said the 65 tons of mercury at chlor-alkali plants the EPA appears to be ignoring is more mercury than is emitted by all power plants in the United States. The Bush Administration’s recent proposal to control mercury emissions from power plants has also sparked an outcry of opposition from Capitol Hill. Senator Leahy and 44 other senators sent a letter to the EPA in April urging the Administration to withdraw the rule because it is too weak. Just last week, EPA’s Inspector General agreed to a request from Jeffords, Leahy, Boxer, and six other senators to review the process in which EPA formulated its December proposed rule to regulate mercury emissions from electric utilities.