Superior leads on mercury reduction
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
Superior can either step up to the plate to hit a home run for the environment now, or wait for the state to take a swing with a regulatory bat.
Next week, city officials are stepping up to the plate to keep mercury out of the environment.
Mayor Dave Ross on Thursday will sign on as a Mercury Green Tier city with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The charter establishes an agreement under which the city pledges to reduce mercury in its wastewater discharges before required by state regulation. The program was established with the goal of reducing mercury in Wisconsin’s environment soon and more efficiently than regulation alone would accomplish.
The charter complements efforts already underway in the city, said Kevin Russeth, a chemist with the city’s Environmental Services Division, which operates the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Since the early part of the decade, the city has worked to remove mercury from the environment through programs such as thermometer exchange program, compact fluorescent lighting recycling, dental amalgam separation and a program introduced in 2006 to reduce mercury in the shipping industry.
“We’re one of the few communities around to have all of the dentists’ offices have an amalgam separator,” Russeth said. “That was determined to be one of the biggest sources” of mercury.
Education has been a big part of the city’s award-winning efforts to remove mercury from the environment. In 2004, the city was honored with the Most Valuable Pollution Prevention at the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable in Washington D.C.
“It allows us to get a head start on mercury reduction,” Russeth said of the charter. He said it also helps the city build a better relationship with the DNR, protects the Lake Superior basin and makes Superior a leader able to assist other communities in their efforts to get mercury out of the environment.
“It’s one of those toxic pollutants that stays in the environment a long time,” Russeth said. “When it goes into the sediment or discharges into the lake, the fish and people can consume it. Then we have all those consumption warnings.”
Mercury is a heavy metal — a silver colored liquid — at room temperature. It has been used as exchange medium, medicine, and in measuring devices. Other uses include hat-making, controlling mildew, killing weeds, and in medical products. Today, it is released from power plants, incinerators, manufacturing processes, hospitals, dental offices, schools and homes. It has also been found in children’s toys and shoes.
The toxic effects caused by mercury are vision impairment, numbness in hands and feet, lack of coordination, speech impairment, muscle weakness, skin rashes, mood swings, and memory loss. If exposure to mercury continues, it can even lead to death. Today, the most common method of poisoning is eating mercury-tainted fish, with children and young women most at risk to mercury poisoning effects.
As a Mercury Green Tier Charter community, he said the city will renew efforts to educate the public about programs the city has in place to help curb the tide of mercury entering the environment.
“There are a lot of programs that we do, but people might not be aware of them,” Russeth said.
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or email@example.com.