DEQ completes Virginia mercury study
RICHMOND, VA. - The Department of Environmental Quality has completed its report to Governor Timothy M. Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly on the effects of mercury in the environment. The 2006 General Assembly requested the report to help determine whether additional steps should be taken to control mercury emissions in Virginia.
The study focuses on computer modeling of mercury entering the environment from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources, and effects on people who eat mercury-contaminated fish.
"This study provides the most detailed look we have ever had at how mercury affects Virginians and their environment," DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. "This information will help inform our continuing efforts to control mercury pollution in the Commonwealth."
DEQ issued a contract to ICF Resources to analyze sources of mercury in the Commonwealth. The analysis shows that mercury from outside Virginia contributes to mercury contamination found in the state. Global and background sources are responsible for the single-largest amount, 74 percent, of mercury deposited in the state.
The study also examined mercury reductions anticipated from rules established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since the study began, a federal court has issued opinions vacating the rules. Mercury entering Virginia’s environment from the atmosphere, called mercury deposition, would decrease 20.4 percent by 2018 under these rules. Most of the reduction, 61 percent, would come from lower mercury emissions in surrounding states. About 13 percent of the reduction would come from sources within Virginia.
Discounting mercury from global and background sources, 54 percent of mercury deposition in Virginia comes from power plants in surrounding states, compared with 14 percent from power plants in Virginia.
The study also evaluated how reduced concentrations of mercury would affect the 13 existing fish consumption advisories for mercury in Virginia. If mercury reductions occurred in 2010 and 2018 under the federal rules, the advisory could be removed for all fish species in three of the water bodies and for at least one fish species in 11 of the water bodies. These changes likely would take years or decades to occur.
For a second part of the study, the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Environmental Studies conducted a fish consumption survey in areas of Virginia affected by mercury advisories. The survey, conducted in summer 2007, asked anglers on the James River below Richmond, and the Chickahominy, Pamunkey, Mattaponi and upper Piankatank rivers about fish-eating habits. The survey found that a significant percentage of anglers and their families may be exposed to additional mercury in their diets by eating mercury-contaminated fish from these waters.
VCU also analyzed the fish consumption data to determine potential health effects from eating mercury-contaminated fish on women of child-bearing age, and DEQ assessed possible economic impacts from those health effects. The full mercury study is on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov/.
Source: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
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