VPIRG Downgrades State’s Rating on Mercury Policy

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(Host) A Vermont consumer advocacy group says the state is slipping in efforts to cut down on mercury contamination. In its annual report card, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group called on the state to adopt a comprehensive program to prevent mercury contamination.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) According to VPIRG, the new report shows Vermont and New Hampshire are bringing up the rear among the six New England states when it comes to dealing the problems of mercury pollution. The annual report card issued by the New England Zero Mercury Campaign gives Vermont a “C” grade – down from a “B minus” last year.

Ben Davis of VPIRG says even though most mercury contamination in the environment comes from outside sources like incinerators and coal burning power plants upwind, Vermont could do much more to stop mercury coming from a variety of in-state sources. Davis says Vermont could follow the lead of other states in banning the mercury in products like novelty toys.

(Davis) “That’s an example of something we could be doing having a ban on novelty toys. Other states has enacted a ban on mercury thermometers, we have not done that yet. Thermostats are another place where you have a lot of mercury in the house. Vermont could be moving aggressively on that front. I think where we fell short was just in the lack of action by the Legislature. We’ve had a comprehensive mercury bill before the Legislature for a number of years now and we just haven’t acted on it.”

(Zind) Davis says a particularly worrisome problem is old mercury filled manometers used to measure the vacuum of milking equipment on dairy farms. He says the state needs to renew a program designed to help farmers replace the manometers. Davis says Vermont is the only New England state to see its grade go down in the new report card.

Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg doesn’t think Vermont’s falling marks are warranted.

(Wennberg) “Absolutely not. Vermont has actually been a national leader in terms of mercury education and especially in the area of voluntary programs. Although we’ve also provided some national leadership in terms of mandatory things such as lamp labeling and we’ve had to litigate some of those kinds of things to bring them into effect.”

(Zind) Wennberg says voluntary programs can work as effectively as mandated programs. He says Vermont has the lowest rate of in-state mercury emissions in the region. Mercury presents serious health risks, especially for young children and pregnant mothers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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