Where to Put Thousands of Casks of Toxic Mercury? Not in My Backyard.

By Eliza Strickland | July 27, 2009 10:12 am

mercuryA new political fight is brewing over where to locate a mercury storage facility, as state officials and residents around the seven sites in consideration have grown alarmed at the prospect of the federal government forcing thousands of casks of the toxic metal on them. Ironically, the conflict began when the federal government passed a law to forbid sending the dangerous metal abroad, but nobody seems eager to keep it at home.

Last year, then-Senator Barack Obama sponsored a bill to bar mercury exports beginning in 2013, and President Bush signed it. The bill also requires the Department of Energy to identify a safe, long-term storage site for up to 17,000 tons of mercury, which is so dense that it would fill less than half of an Olympic-size swimming pool. That includes stockpiles held by the federal government, as well as commercial supplies [AP]. The seven sites in consideration for the storage facility are scattered across the country, in South Carolina, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Texas, and Washington.

Mercury can cause serious developmental problems in children, and can also impair cognitive and motor functions in adults. While this dangerous neurotoxin is being phased out by industry and the government here in the United States, surplus mercury is shipped overseas to developing countries, where it is released from highly polluting industries….  “Not only is the air and water in those importing countries contaminated with concentrations of mercury that would not be tolerated in the United States, the mercury can also travel for thousands of miles and can settle right back here in the United States, poisoning Americans mainly through consumption of contaminated fish” [Environmental News Service], explained Susan Keane, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Protests regarding the proposed storage facility have already popped up in each area that’s under consideration. The city council of Kansas City, Missouri has passed a resolution opposing the facility, while the angry Idaho governor vowed to fight it. But some say the facility would pose no danger. Opponents of the proposal made it sound as though it called for mercury to be poured into a hole in the ground, said Jack Kingsley, a retired physicist. Mercury “is not that hard to seal up,” Kingsley said. “A lot of the concerns have been overblown.” Plans call for the construction of a building of about 150,000 square feet that would hold thousands of 76-pound steel flasks, each containing 2.5 liters of the liquid, silvery metal…. The building, which would look much “like a Wal-Mart or a Costco,” would have sealed concrete floors that would contain any leaks, said David Levenstein of the Energy Department [Grand Junction Sentinel].

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Image: iStockphoto

  • Shaithis

    It would be interesting if they could break down this element in a reactor.

  • wjv

    Does mercury have any positive uses for human beings or other ecosystems?

    If not , then why not blast it off into the sun or space?

    (Although, Shaithis’s suggestion is preferable if it’s possible. We only have so much matter at our disposal here on earth, it would be a shame to voluntarily eject any of it, even if its harmful in certain forms)

  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    It costs $10 or $20,000 per pound to launch something into low earth orbit. 17,000 tons = 34 million pounds x 10,000 bucks = 340,000,000,000 dollars, approximately, just to get it into LEO where it would quickly burn up into the atmosphere during the inevitable re-entry, raining it down on all of us. It is more expensive to get higher in orbit and even more expensive to get to the sun or Venus….

    So no.

  • chris

    If nothing else the Mercury storage facility could create a few jobs with Federal money, you would think that the States would desire that.

  • VN-Whippany

    Solution to the NIMBY problem: Build the Hg storage facility at a location that is naturally polluted with mercury. Namely, at a location where mercury ore is or has been mined from the earth!

  • darth malicus

    I think its a good idea to keep it away from other countries that might miss handle it and wjv is right, getting rid of it by ejection off of earth is a really bad idea, even if the effect on our orbit would be negligible for a billion years I’m sure in the future we can find a use for it in some type of process (maby the new green bio fuel farming can use it to accelerate the process)
    I’m sure that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to keep anything we find on earth even if it can be harmful, a safe storage facility would not be hard, you don’t have to contain high pressures, explosive gasses, or decomposing material, I think that the people opposed are just nearsighted individuals who can’t safely store household cleaners from their children and thus think that everyone else on earth is that stupid.
    I think that its a no brainer, and i probably don’t have much of a voice about the matter as I am Canadian, but if i can help to expel the myths and and help a few people see what is right and wrong then I am glad to help


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