Ohio River Mercury

Press Release: Multi-state commission kicks mercury ban deadline for Ohio River back to state agencies

Multi-state Commission Kicks Mercury Ban Deadline for Ohio River Back to State Agencies

 Environmental groups disappointed commission not setting consistent standard 

 BUFFALO, N.Y. – Today, an 8-state commission that oversees pollution standards for the Ohio River announced a disappointing decision to remove the October 16 effective date for a ban that would forbid companies in all states along the river from dumping high levels of toxic mercury into the waterway. Instead, the commission changed the rule to shift the responsibility to state agencies for deciding whether to allow companies to discharge larger amounts of mercury into the river, which means there will likely be no unified standard.

Mercury is a known neurotoxin that causes brain and nerve damage to children and developing fetuses when they are exposed through consumption of contaminated fish.

In 2003, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, known as ORSANCO, authorized a ban to take effect in 10 years that would prevent polluters located in all states along the Ohio River from releasing high levels of mercury directly into the water through the use of mercury dilution zones. The ban on these “mixing zones” would improve the safety of consumption of fish from the river and protect public health. After delaying the ban by two years, ORSANCO set a new effective date for October 16, 2015.

Instead of enforcing a specific implementation date, ORSANCO at its public meeting today in Buffalo, N.Y. announced it changed the mixing zone prohibition to “As soon as practicable,” and left final decision-making to state permitting authorities. States will now have more leeway to decide whether to grant variances to individual coal plants, factories and other industries along the Ohio River that seek exceptions to comply with the ban.

Representatives from a coalition of 20 environmental groups working toward a cleaner and healthier Ohio River are concerned that states along the Ohio River will not be tough enforcers of the ban.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our partners are disappointed about this decision because it fails to recognize that polluters have already had 12 years to reduce their mercury discharges,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC’s Staff Attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “ORSANCO hasn’t done its job well on mercury pollution so Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania need to step up and do it better. The Commission missed a crucial opportunity here to set a firm deadline for achieving safe levels of mercury in the Ohio River.”

Environmental groups worry about continued health risks for residents who benefit from the fish supply in the Ohio River and those who recreate there as well.

“ORSANCO’s decision flies in the face of Kentuckians who support the ban on toxic mercury discharges and the enforcement of water quality protections, and it flies in the face of science,” said Tim Joice, Water Policy Director at the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. “We are extremely disappointed for all the fishermen and families that eat fish from the river daily, and disappointed for the public at large. KWA will continue to fight for clean water for the health of our communities and citizens.”

The coalition also charges that  ORSANCO is abandoning its own mission to set one standard for the entire river, which is intended to reduce overall pollution and create a level playing field for industries along the length of the river.

“This decision to eliminate the ban deadline provides no end in sight to the increasing mercury pollution in the Ohio River,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “Cleaner water for our residents simply can’t wait.”

Several companies along the Ohio River were in the process of requesting variances to the mixing zone ban from ORSANCO and they will instead have to seek exceptions directly from states agencies.

ORSANCO, which is composed of governor-appointed individuals from eight states and three federal government representatives, is charged to conduct a review of its pollution abatement and control standards every three years. More than 16,000 public comments were submitted opposing the lifting of the mercury mixing zone ban deadline.



Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio River mercury decision passes authority to states

State officials along the Ohio River will now be left to decide whether companies can discharge mercury and other potentially harmful chemicals into the Ohio River in areas known as mixing zones.

Members of the board of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) made the decision Thursday morning at a board meeting in Buffalo, New York, to the dismay of many environmental groups.

“This decision is disappointing and fails to recognize that polluters have already had 12 years to reduce their mercury discharges,” a statement from the Environmental Law & Policy Center reads. “ORSANCO hasn’t done its job well on mercury pollution so Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania need to step up and do it better. The commission missed a crucial opportunity here to set a firm deadline for achieving safe levels of mercury in the Ohio River. Without such a deadline, it’s likely that polluters will just spend another 12 years twiddling their thumbs rather than taking concrete steps toward reducing mercury discharges.”


Cincinnati Enquirer: Mercury in the Ohio River: To Mix or not to mix

Twelve years ago, pollution monitors banned diluting mercury into the Ohio River, a demand still under negotiation.

Across a small lake in the flood plain of the Ohio River, fish jump from the water on a gorgeous, late-summer morning.

A fisherman casts into the blue waters of one of several lakes on a 2,500-acre preserve straddling the Indiana-Ohio border, at a place known as Oxbow. The lakes are full of fish and the fisherman has a good chance at a crop of crappie, blue gill and bass.

But he’ll want to throw all but one back.

The Ohio River Fish Consumption Advisories urge him and others not to eat more than one fish per month from the river – including these wetlands, which flood at least three times a year.

Why? Mercury and other chemicals, byproducts of industry, that build up in fish over time create potential health risks.


Cincinnati Enquirer Op-Ed: Miller, Fleisher: Keep Mercury Out of the Ohio River

Michael C. Miller is professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Madeline Fleisher is a staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Columbus.

Everyone loves a good fish story. Depending on how this tale ends, it may not be one we’ll want to read to our kids at bedtime.

That’s because this story begins with how much mercury has been dumped into the Ohio River where locals love to fish, swim, boat and jet ski. And it could end badly – and soon – if an eight-state commission announces this week it will withdraw a ban it crafted in 2003 to reduce the flow of mercury, a dangerous neurotoxin, into the river.

To be sure, there are other pollutants in the Ohio River we need to worry about too. Recent headlines rightly focused on outbreaks of poisonous algae spreading across the Ohio since August.


Midwest Energy News: Agency considers further delay on Ohio River mercury rule

A 12-year extension allowing power plants and other industrial polluters to exceed mercury standards as wastewater enters the Ohio River could be stretched out even further, if a proposal before an interstate regulatory board is approved.

The question before the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is whether dischargers should continue to be allowed to use “mixing zones” for high levels of mercury that will be diluted downstream to levels meeting the standards.


Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press: Eased restrictions on Ohio River mercury pollution being considered

EVANSVILLE – A key Ohio River regulatory body may loosen mercury pollution control standards it once considered a logical step to reduce the contamination of fish which it identified as a widespread problem on the river.

Opponents of the proposed changes say the problem hasn’t change in the decade since the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) adopted the pollution control standards it now wants to change.



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