Releases of mercury into the environment from anthropogenic (man-made) sources including power plants, mining activities, incinerators and other industrial sources is a global problem. Data from the 2003 Toxics Release Inventory show that Utah emits 889 pounds, or approximately 0.4 metric tons (1 metric ton is equal to 2,204 pounds) of mercury.
Regionally, mercury emissions in the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada total 4.6 metric tons. Data from the United Nations Global Mercury Assessment Report show that North America, which includes the United States, Mexico and Canada, emit 213.5 metric tons of mercury, with the global total of mercury emissions 1913 metric tons. Click here to review a regional map of this data.
Data from the 2003 Toxic Release Inventory show that approximately 19,000 pounds of mercury-containing compounds were released to land in Utah. About 13,000 pounds of the total is naturally occurring in waste rock, managed at mining sites. About 4000 pounds of the total was disposed of at hazardous waste landfills. The remaining 3000 pounds of mercury-containing compounds is found in coal-fired power plant fly ash, that is generally buried on-site.
Identification of "Water Quality Limited" Waters in Utah
Water Quality programs across the country, including Utah, often address unacceptable mercury levels in local water bodies through the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process. The TMDL process was designed by the Clean Water Act to insure that all sources of pollutant loading are accounted for when devising strategies to meet Water Quality Standards. The TMDL is an estimate of the greatest amount of a specific pollutant that a water body or stream segment can receive without violating water quality standards. The State compares recent information regarding the physical, chemical and biological condition of a stream segment with the associated water quality standards for that stream segment. Where Technology-based effluent limits in discharge permits alone are not stringent enough to assure that water quality standards are met, these stream segments are designated "Water Quality Limited" and added to a list. This list, called the 303(d) List, identifies the specific component (such as mercury (Hg), nitrate, or copper) that is the basis for the water quality problem in that segment of the water body. TMDLs are required for all components listed for each stream segment on the 303(d) List. This list is updated every two years. No waters in the State of Utah are impaired by mercury.
Mercury in Fish Tissue Sampling Program
Since 2000, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) has collected and analyzed over 350 fish for mercury. Additionally, from 1990 to 2000, other federal agencies have collected over 190 fish for mercury analysis. As of June 2005, results from all data sources indicate that five locations within the state require verification sampling to determine if mercury screening values are being exceeded. This sampling will be completed during the summer of 2005.
A statewide fish tissue mercury monitoring program is currently being developed for implementation in 2006. This program will target locations throughout the state but will emphasize locations where significant fish consumption occurs. In locations where mercury in the fish tissue exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency screening value of 0.3 mg/kg, a human health risk assessment will be completed and if warranted, a fish advisory will be issued.
UDEQ is facilitating a Mercury Work Group (MWG) to coordinate and collaborate mercury studies and investigations ongoing in Utah. Stakeholders from a broad base of state, federal, and non-profit agencies, industry, and the public, will participate to maximize the group’s effectiveness.
MWG meetings are open to all interested parties and will be held quarterly, as best as possible. The initial objectives of the group follow below, however, the group will undoubtedly shape these objectives as work progresses on this issue:
For more information on the MWG, please contact John Whitehead, DWQ at: firstname.lastname@example.org
KSL News Story: "Tests Revealing Mercury Levels in Utah Fish"