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WV Rivers To Administration: Stand Firm On Mercury

posted Apr 21, 2015, 5:00 AM by David Lillard

Industry exemptions for toxic discharges into the Ohio River under consideration

West Virginia Rivers Coalition is calling on the Tomblin Administration to urge his appointees to stick to an agreement aimed at reducing mercury discharges into the Ohio River. Today, WV Rivers and Kentucky Waterways Alliance launched a new campaign, “NO MORE (No Mercury in the Ohio River Environment).” Aimed to protect public health and restore safe fish consumption in the river, the campaign rejects a proposal to further delay or abandon a river-wide ban on mercury dilution zones.

A dozen years ago the Ohio Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), which sets water pollution limits for the river, ordered the ban on the use of concentrated industrial discharge zones where mercury could be diluted, but never removed. Companies that have put off complying with the requirement have asked ORSANCO to make exceptions, and ORSANCO has agreed to consider the requests. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and other Ohio River governors appoint members to ORSANCO.

“We’re seeing progress on the Ohio,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “West Virginians remember when it was in much worse shape. We can’t roll back the clock to benefit a few corporations that want excused from the rules.”

The Ohio River serves as the drinking water source for 5 million people. Even with the improvements in the river’s condition over time, it still ranks at the top of the dirtiest rivers in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The high mercury levels are a main culprit.

“These waters get a clean start high in our beloved West Virginia mountains,” said Rosser. “They are our drinking water and our recreation; it doesn’t make us a very good upstream neighbor to dump mercury into them once they reach the Ohio.”

Mercury poisoning causes brain damage in children and kidney failure in adults, which is why ORSANCO originally ordered a ban on dilution zones. “West Virginians want reasonable regulations that ensure clean, safe water,” said Rosser, citing a recent survey in which 90 percent of respondents said that Tomblin should prioritize protecting water supplies.

The public comment period for proposed revisions to the river’s mercury pollution standards is open through May 14. The group is providing information on how citizens can participate now in decisions about the future health of the Ohio River at WVRivers.org

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