Mercury – EPA Review

This page contains information about the recently established EPA Mercury Review  to evaluate historical data on mercury contamination in and around the Botany Industrial Park as well as facilitate off-site testing.

Related pages are:  Malabar Headland Contamination

Mercury Remediation Botany Industrial Park

Penrhyn Estuary Mercury

Southlands Mercury

 

For further details check the EPA’s official site.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced on Friday 25 January 2013 that it would conduct an independent review of all information around historical mercury emissions at Botany.The review will be comprehensive and involve independent experts who will assess any potential off-site mercury impacts around the former chlor alkali plant at Botany. It will involve a thorough analysis of available data to determine the further information needed, including testing, to assess the potential for health risks to the adjacent community associated with mercury emissions from the former plant. If, in the course of the review, it is established that other hazardous substances need to be investigated, this will be done.  (from EPA’s official site:  16/5/2013)

To date the EPA have held two public meetings:

22 November 2012:  Hillsdale

Answers to community questions from that meeting distributed 7 March 2013.

7 March 2013:  Eastlakes

Independent Review Presentation by Greg Sheehy, EPA  and Mark Gifford, Chief Environmental Regulator

Presentation from Andrew Helps of Hg Recoveries

Fact Sheet  on the  Independent Review: Mercury emissions from the Orica Botany plant

Specific sites where Mercury located see pages on Southlands;  Penrhyn Estuary  and Statements from EPA on Malabar Headland

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The first Meeting of the Mercury Review Panel was held 2.30 pm, on Thursday 14th March 2013,  in Botany Town Hall.

The second Meeting was held 12.30pm, on Thursday 18th April 2013, in Botany Town Hall.

The third Meeting was held 1pm, on Thursday 23rd May 2013, in Botany Town Hall

Membership of the Panel and  DRAFT TERMS OF REFERENCE  –  Note contact details for Community Representatives including Council staff representing their communities.  Also general email for the EPA:   info.botany(at)epa.nsw.gov.au

Chair EPA Mercury Review Panel – Mr Mark Gifford – Chief Environmental Regulator
Science – Dr Klaus Koop, Director Environment Protection Science, Office of Environment and Heritage
Botany Bay Council – Steve Poulton, Director Assets and Environment   Email:  poultons (at) botanybay.nsw.gov.au
Randwick City Council – Dr Talebul Islam, Coordinator Waste Management    Email:  talebul.islam (at) randwick.nsw.gov.au
Community – Ms Chantal Snell
Community – Ms Lynda Newnam – Email:  laperouse (at) bigpond.com
Secretary – Mr Zack Thomas
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Background
Web Mercury AdOrica website on Mercury
UNITED NATIONS   Minamata Convention on Mercury – due to be ratified in October this year in Minamata.
Australia-Hg inventory – 2009 Report to Federal Department of Environment(SEWPAC) by CSIRO and Macquarie University, submitted to United Nations Environment Program(UNEP)
Mercury Botany
(Advertisement (full-page) in The Australian, 4-5 August, 1990.
How mercury is dealt with elsewhere, recent examples:   Washington  Yosemite
Exchange between Senator Cameron and Mr Andrew Helps at Senate Environment and Communications References Committee:  Wednesday 20th February 2013)  For complete transcript see pages 15-21.

Mr Helps:  I think the Commonwealth EPBC investigator should be all over this. You run into a problem, especially in New South Wales, where you have regulatory capture by Orica of the regulators. I find it fascinating that in New South Wales Orica could go and talk to the environment minister but the residents cannot. They are building this encapsulation on-site and it will be a legacy issue for the next 20 generations. Ultimately, somebody is going to have to dig it up and do it properly.

Senator CAMERON:  I find this extremely concerning that we have got a proposition here that a large part of the Sydney metropolitan area has got mercury poisoning. I do not think that we as a committee can just ignore this. I do not know what the implications are or what the truth of this matter is. I propose that we immediately send the documentation to the Minister for Health and to the Minister for the Environment and we get copies of Hansard for this sent to both the ministers and the departments and ask for an urgent response to what has been put. I just am not going to sit here, get this evidence and we say nothing about it. I would propose that we do that. I cannot make an informed judgement on the evidence that is before us.

August 2012    
 New book tracks its spread, as well as its effects in biology, chemistry, and public health
Humans have known about mercury’s toxicity since ancient times, when work in mines that extracted cinnabar — the blood-red, mercury-containing ore — was considered a death sentence.Though powdered cinnabar was commonly used as a paint pigment, its toxic properties were also used to advantage. The powder was sprinkled in tombs of ancient rulers to preserve their remains and was used in ancient India to preserve scarves.Today, scientists know much more about mercury than the ancients did. Its relentless travels in the environment have been traced from natural and industrial sources to sediments and through the food web as it has grown increasingly concentrated, passing from prey to predator to larger predator.The dangers of mercury poisoning have been highlighted in several prominent cases, such as that in Minamata, Japan, where thousands of members of the local fishing community were debilitated by decades of industrial releases into nearby waters. Mercury interferes with the central nervous system and can damage kidneys and lungs.In the United States, there are health warnings for vulnerable populations, like young people and pregnant women, cautioning them against eating too much of certain fish, including predators such as tuna and swordfish, out of concern that mercury accumulated in the fish flesh could be harmful. Now, a new book with a number of contributors and edited by a Harvard staff member, Michael Bank, highlights this history and explores what happens to mercury when it is released into the environment. The book outlines mercury’s public health dangers for a new generation of students and researchers.Bank, a research auditor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) who also conducts his own research on the subject, spent the past three years developing the book project and shepherding it through to completion. Titled “Mercury in the Environment: Pattern and Process,”  it was released by the University of California Press.The book’s chapters cover an array of mercury-related topics, including the use of mercury by ancient civilizations, fate and transport of mercury in different ecosystem types, atmospheric sciences, isotope chemistry, toxicology, risk assessment, and public health.“We truly need a broad perspective to understand the magnitude of this important environmental health issue,” Bank said.  Bank, who received a Ph.D. from the University of Maine in 2005, conducted his dissertation research on contaminant biology and species loss while a research assistant at Harvard Forest, followed by a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health on mercury in fish from the Gulf of Mexico.Bank said that although the United States has recently made important strides developing policies to reduce mercury emissions, that’s not the case for much of the world. Mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs is becoming a larger problem because of their increased popularity. A major global source remains coal-burning power plants around the world, particularly in Asia, where coal is an important fuel for rapidly growing economies. Mercury in the coal is released into the atmosphere when the coal is burned. Once in the atmosphere, prevailing winds carry it around the globe.In 2004, Bank gave a talk on the subject at a conference, after which some audience members urged him to compile a book. From there, he put the proposal together, lined up the experts who authored the book’s chapters, co-authored a chapter on mercury toxicology, edited the volume, and shepherded it through a peer-review process that examined individual chapters as well as the entire book.The book takes an in-depth look at the public health issues involving mercury and provides linkages to many of the other scientific disciplines utilized to study this widespread contaminant. Bank said it was important to use a multidisciplinary approach, focusing on chemistry and biology as well as public health and environmental health science.There’s much that is still unknown about mercury in the environment, Bank said, citing research that found elevated mercury levels in salamanders from national parks and in songbirds in remote, high-elevation areas, likely from the insects they eat, highlighting yet another way the metal is moved through the environment. Bank said he will develop a second edition to provide updates and keep the volume current.

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The AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND DISEASE REGISTRY  – ATSDR –  is the lead agency within the United States Public Health Service concerned with the effects of hazardous substances on human health. ATSDR is charged with assessing the presence and nature of health hazards at specific Superfund sites, as well as helping prevent or reduce further exposure and the illnesses that can result from such exposure.  The following documents have been issued by the ATSDR and are useful for comparing with Australian material:

ATSDR-Overview 2011

ATSDR Detailed Data Table 2011

ATSDR Minimum Risk Levels 2013

This page published 11/3/13; Updates:  31/3/13; 5/4/13; 11/04/13; 13/04/13;17/04/13; 30/04/13;24/5/13