Fresh Air in Jersey

New Jersey has adopted new rules that establish the strongest mercury and arsenic standards in the country. These rules will reduce mercury emissions from certain facilities by up to 90 percent by the end of 2007 and will cut in half the acceptable limit of arsenic in drinking water by 2006.

"If New Jersey's mercury rules were enacted nationally, annual emissions from coal-fired power plants alone would decline from approximately 48 tons to about five tons," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell, announcing the new standards on Thursday.

"At the same time," he said, "through existing technologies we can provide greater health protections, reducing the risk of cancers from arsenic in drinking water."

The measures are the last environmental rules to be put in place by the administration of Governor James McGreevey, who is leaving office on November 15 over a scandal involving his homosexual relationship with an aide.

Senate President Richard Codey, a fellow Democrat, will to take over as acting governor and serve the remaining 14 months of McGreevey's term. He is expected to uphold and enforce the new mercury and arsenic rules.

The regulations call for a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions from the state's 10 coal-fired boilers in power plants by the end of 2007. The rules allow for some flexibility, giving plants the option of meeting the standards in 2012 if they also make major reductions in their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates.

The new regulations also mandate a reduction of mercury emissions from the state's six iron and steel melters of 75 percent by the end of 2009. The state estimates that iron and steel manufacturing plants are the largest New Jersey sources of mercury emissions with much of their materials coming from shredded automobiles' scrap metal.

The rules call for a further reduction of mercury emissions from New Jersey's five municipal solid waste incinerators of at least 95 percent below 1990 levels in 2011.

In addition, the mercury rules contain standards for medical waste incinerators that are already being met by the three facilities operating in New Jersey. These protective standards will ensure that these incinerators continue to minimize mercury emissions, allowing for a maximum level of emissions that is one-tenth the current federal limit.

The new arsenic rules establish a maximum contaminant level of five parts per billion (ppb) for arsenic concentrations in drinking water, effective January 23, 2006.

In February 2002, the federal government adopted a 10-ppb arsenic drinking water standard, also effective January 23, 2006. No state other than New Jersey has adopted an arsenic standard as protective as five ppb.

New Jersey requires monitoring for arsenic at more than 600 public community water systems and 900 non-transient, non-community systems, which combined serve around 85 percent of the state's population. Based on past data, the DEP predicts approximately 34 community and 101 non-community systems will have arsenic levels exceeding the new five ppb standard.

In addition, the new state arsenic standard will apply to private well owners regulated under New Jersey's Private Well Testing Act, requiring notification of consumers about arsenic concentrations during a real estate transaction and when renting property.

Long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs and bladder. As arsenic is a naturally occurring element found throughout New Jersey, it is important for water purveyors to take active steps to reduce arsenic levels in drinking water, Campbell said.

Water systems in the Piedmont region of New Jersey are most likely to be affected by naturally occurring arsenic, including areas of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties. Arsenic in these areas leaches into the ground due to the erosion of rock deposits that contain arsenic.

Four treatment technologies have been identified as capable of removing arsenic in New Jersey's drinking water supplies below the adopted maximum contaminant level of 5 ppb. The New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology (NJCAT) has certified one of these technologies.

Exposure to a toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. Children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to mercury contamination. Even exposure to low levels can potentially cause permanent brain damage to the fetus, infants, and young children.

Scientists estimate up to 60,000 children may be born annually in the United States at elevated risk for neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in utero.

Mercury is a problem both from long-range sources and from regional and local sources. Contaminated fish have been found in remote areas of the state, such as the Pinelands, as well as in industrialized areas.

Mercury can contaminate waterbodies either directly through runoff or from air pollution that deposits in the water. Once in an aquatic ecosystem, it accumulates in the tissues of animals as methylmercury, a toxic and harmful form of mercury.

New Jersey is one of more than 40 states that issued fish advisories for certain species of fish contaminated with mercury. Studies have shown that reducing mercury emissions can reduce contamination in nearby ecosystems. In Florida, scientists found that mercury concentrations in fish and wading birds in the Everglades have declined by 60 to 70 percent in the last 10 years as a result of controls in mercury emissions in neighboring industries.

The DEP developed the mercury and arsenic rules in consultation with other governmental agencies, universities, scientists, regulated industry officials, and environmental and public health advocates. The adopted rules will appear in the December 6, 2004 New Jersey Register.

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