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Mercury: Regulations & Policies
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Mercury in Products
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NEWMOA Mercury Education and Reduction Model Legislation
NEWMOA developed the model legislation as a framework to assist states to develop more consistent ap...

A number of federal, state, and local regulatory initiatives may apply to generators of mercury waste. These initiatives mainly focus on mercury waste disposal and recycling and prevention of mercury pollution. There are also regulations that pertain to mercury-added products.

Federal Regulations
Under federal environmental statutes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the responsibility to create and enforce regulations to control mercury emissions to the air and water, or prevent contamination from waste and products.

  • Air Emissions Regulations - The Clean Air Act (CAA) (42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq.) regulates 188 air toxics, also known as "hazardous air pollutants." Mercury is one of these air toxics. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish national emissions standards for mercury and requires facilities to install and use limit mercury emissions.
    Clean Air Act:

    On August 25, 2003, the EPA issued a "maximum achievable technology" (MACT) rule to reduce emissions of mercury from mercury cell chlor-alkali plants - considered to be a major contributor of hazardous air pollutants. The rule requires new control devices and sets work practice standards for washing down floors, covering waste containers, monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting. These requirements also reduce fugitive mercury emissions throughout the plants. On May 30, 2008 the EPA proposed amendments to this rule in an attempt to control and reduce mercury air emissions from these sources even further.
    Emissions from Mercury Cell Chlor-Alkali Plants:

    On March 15, 2005, EPA issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. This rule established "standards of performance" limiting mercury emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants and created a market-based cap-and-trade program to reduce nationwide mercury emissions. However, these regulations were vacated by a court on February 8, 2008. EPA is involved in further rule-making to control air emissions of mercury from coal plants. In addition, states can be more stringent than the federal regulations and some already regulate mercury from coal plants.
    Clean Air Mercury Rule:

  • Water Quality Requirements - The Clean Water Act (CWA) (33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.) identifies levels for pollutants that must be met in order to protect human health, fish, and wildlife. The EPA or a State (with EPA approval) sets the water quality standards for certain priority pollutants, including mercury concentration in surface waters.
    Clean Water Act:

    The Clean Water Act requires that States establish Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) (33 U.S.C. § 303d) standards for certain water pollutants in impaired waters. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that the water body can receive and still safely meet set water quality standards. The TMDLs for mercury may be different depending on the water body and the state.
    Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads:

    The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (42 U.S.C. § 300f et. seq.) sets standards to protect the quality of drinking water that apply to public water systems. This Act provides for the National Primary Drinking Water Standards, which list the maximum contaminant level for mercury in drinking water at .002 milligrams per liter (mg/L), which is equivalent to 2 parts per billion (ppb).
    Safe Drinking Water Act:
    National Primary Drinking Water Regulations:

  • Hazardous Waste Requirements - The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq.) regulates hazardous waste from "cradle-to-grave," meaning throughout its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. Under RCRA, waste material exhibiting the characteristic of toxicity for mercury must to be managed as hazardous waste. Mercury-containing household hazardous waste or waste generated in very small quantities from "conditionally exempt small quantity generators" (CESQG) are exempt from some RCRA hazardous waste requirements.
    Resource Conservation and Recovery Act:

    In 1995, the EPA issued the Universal Waste Rule (UWR) (40 CFR § 273 et seq.) as an amendment to RCRA. The UWR was designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste items in the municipal solid waste stream, encourage recycling and proper disposal of certain common hazardous wastes, and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes. The Federal UWR applies to batteries, pesticides, lamps, and mercury-containing equipment (e.g., thermostats). Because the Federal UWR is less stringent than the original hazardous waste regulations, adoption by the states is optional. States can modify the UWR or add additional waste(s) in individual state regulations.
    Federal Universal Waste Rule:
    State Universal Waste Rules:

  • Toxics Release Inventory - Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (42 U.S.C. § 11001 et seq.) requires facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use certain chemicals to report to the EPA the annual quantities of each chemical released to the environment. This reporting program is known as the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). For mercury or mercury compounds, the reporting threshold is 10 pounds in one calendar year.
    Toxic Release Inventory Program:
  • Mercury Products Laws - The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996 (42 U.S.C. 14301-14336) limits the mercury content allowed in consumer batteries. This Act essentially phased-out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries - small amounts of mercury are still present in some button-cell batteries, but battery manufacturers have planned total mercury phase-out by 2011.
    Battery Act:

    In October 2007, the EPA issued a final Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) to require notification to EPA 90 days prior to U.S. manufacture, import, or processing of elemental mercury for use in convenience light switches, anti-lock brake system (ABS) switches, and active ride control system switches in certain motor vehicles. On January 1, 2003, U.S. automobile manufacturers voluntarily discontinued the use of elemental mercury in automobile switches; foreign automobile manufacturers had previously discontinued use of such switches.
    Motor Vehicle Switch New Use Rule:

Additional Sources: U.S. EPA "Mercury Laws and Regulations":
EPA Laws, Regulations, and Guidance Documents:

Regional Strategies
Because of mercury’s mobility and persistence in the environment, it can have similar effects within an entire region - overlapping areas in several states and countries. As a result, many states in the U.S. (and some other countries) have partnered to address mercury pollution on a regional scale.

As noted previously, the Clean Water Act requires that states set their own TMDL standards for impaired water bodies or areas identified in the state. Some states or groups of states have established state-wide or regional standards. For example, Minnesota established state-wide TMDLs for mercury for the two main regions of the state (northeast and southwest) because the source of mercury for all impaired waters is atmospheric. Seven of the northeast states (i.e., New England states and New York) have joined together to establish a Northeast Regional Strategy for reducing the sources of mercury that contribute to contamination in fresh water bodies in the region so that the state-wide and regional TMDL water quality standards can be achieved.
Minnesota Statewide Mercury TMDL: [PDF]
Northeast Regional Mercury TMDL:[PDF]

The Great Lakes Bi-national Toxics Strategy is a joint effort of U.S. states and Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes Region to manage and reduce mercury in the environment. The goal of this effort is to gain a better understanding of mercury, including its impacts to human health and the environment, its behavior in the environment, and information about mercury levels in fish. The strategy sets goals for reducing mercury use and mercury emissions, with an overall goal of the virtual elimination of mercury.
Great Lakes Bi-national Toxics Strategy: [PDF]

In 1998 the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers developed a Mercury Action Plan to reduce mercury pollution in the region. The Mercury Action Plan outlines the steps needed to achieve reductions in mercury use, emissions, and discharges, with the ultimate goal being the virtual elimination of anthropogenic mercury releases in the region. These efforts are a combination of source reduction, safe waste management practices, and aggressive emissions controls.
New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers Mercury Action Plan: [PDF]

State Regulations
Many states have enacted legislation and written regulations with the goal of reducing mercury emissions to air, land, and water. These actions cover a variety of topics, including requirements for controlling a wide variety of sources of mercury air emissions, banning the sale of certain mercury-containing products, enacting product-labeling legislation, establishing disposal bans, and establishing education and collection programs for mercury and mercury-containing products.

In order to assist the New England states and the Eastern Canadian provinces in implementing the efforts under the Mercury Action Plan, the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA) developed the Mercury Education and Reduction Model Act. The Mercury Education and Reduction Model Act provides for the model legislation that was the basis for a number of the bills and provision that have been enacted by numerous states.

The idea behind the Mercury Education and Reduction Model Legislation is to assist states and provinces to develop more consistent approaches to managing mercury-containing wastes. This model is designed to be a flexible set of concepts from which the states can choose those that meet their jurisdictional priorities. It includes the following attributes:

Many of the elements of this model have been included in legislation that has been adopted or proposed in many states. In 2001 NEWMOA launched the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC) to provide ongoing technical and programmatic assistance to states that have enacted mercury education and reduction legislation and to serve as a single point of contact for industry and the public for information on mercury-added products and member states' mercury education and reduction programs. The IMERC state members currently include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Source: IMERC, "Mercury Reduction and Education Legislation in the IMERC-Member States," 2008:

Local Ordinances
Some municipalities and communities have also taken action to regulate mercury in the form of local ordinances or bylaws. There are also a number of voluntary community initiatives taking place throughout the U.S.

Many local ordinances have been adopted that ban the manufacture, import, distribution, and/or retail sale of certain mercury-added products. A common example is the ban on the sale of mercury fever and/or basal thermometers in many counties, cities, and towns throughout the U.S.

Other communities prohibit the disposal of certain household mercury-added products in solid waste disposal facilities. For example, some municipalities mandate the recycling of mercury-added thermostats at their end-of-life, or facilitate collection programs to ensure proper disposal.

Source: EPA "Information on State Mercury Programs":

Additional Regulations
Additional regulations may apply to companies that dispose of, treat, or incinerate mercury waste. These regulations include land disposal restrictions (LDR), waste treatment standards, and mercury emissions limits for medical, municipal, and hazardous waste incinerators.

Source: EPA "Mercury Laws and Regulations":

Last Updated: 11/14/08


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Mercury Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
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Hub Last Updated: 12/4/2012