DOE Hearing about Mercury Storage in Andrews, Texas on August 6
July 24, 2009
At the direction of the U.S. Congress, the Department of Energy (DOE) is holding hearings across the country to develop a long-term storage facility for approximately 10,000 metric tons of elemental mercury from government and commercial sources. A location on the New Mexico-Texas border has been proposed for this waste storage and disposal facility. For that reason, DOE is holding a public hearing in Andrews, Texas on August 6 from 5:30 to 9:30 pm at the James Robert Civic Center.
Mercury is a silver-colored metallic element that is toxic to wildlife, ecosystems and humans. Elemental mercury is used in a number of industries, including manufacturing, reclamation and recycling and gold mining. It is estimated that ten percent of women of child-bearing age in the United States have blood mercury levels that could put their baby at risk for neurological problems.
Most people are exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. In an effort to reduce the worldwide use of mercury, Congress passed the Mercury Export Ban Act in 2008. The Act acknowledges that minimizing the use of mercury would be more effective than reducing fish consumption because so many in the world rely on fish as a daily source of nutrition. The Act bans the export of elemental mercury by 2013.
The hearings are being conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and are the first in a series of public participation opportunities. Under NEPA, federal agencies are required to examine the environmental and social impacts of their proposals and include alternatives to their preferred proposal. These hearings are about the scope of an environmental impact statement.
Since 1997, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) has operated waste facilities on the New Mexico-Texas border, a few miles east of Eunice, New Mexico and 30 miles west of Andrews, Texas. WCS currently has permits and licenses to accept hazardous and low-level radioactive waste for storage, treatment and disposal and has a 5.4 million cubic yard landfill for hazardous waste.
Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, has been working with the communities near WCS monitoring the expansion of waste storage and disposal at WCS. He said, "The environmental impact statement creates an opportunity for DOE and the community to closely reexamine the safeguards in place at WCS, especially with regards to potential impacts of additional waste disposal on groundwater. The exact location of the Ogallala Aquifer near the site and pathways to the groundwater must be established." Nuclear Watch New Mexico is preparing sample comments and will be available on their website at www.nukewatch.org.
Other public hearings are scheduled to be held in Richland, Washington; North Augusta, South Carolina, Hawthorne, Nevada; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Portland, Oregon. The public comment period ends on August 24.
For more information about the DOE proposal, visit http://www.mercurystorageeis.com/library.htm.