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January 22, 1999

AMSA Discusses Mercury Concerns with EPA Water Office

Ever-tightening mercury limits are facing POTWs across the country as a result of new water quality criteria and the availability of a proposed new detection method for mercury–method 1631. To share AMSA's concerns with these issues, the AMSA Mercury Workgroup met this week with EPA water program officials. Many agencies are concerned that very low mercury effluent limits will require advanced treatment methods, which, while extremely costly, may not result in any appreciable mercury reductions. Although EPA has assured AMSA that new analytical and sampling techniques, along with source control measures, will be enough for POTWs to attain the new limits without difficulty, AMSA is concerned that EPA's conclusions are inaccurate.

Armed with preliminary data indicating that mercury could pose a greater challenge to POTWs than EPA anticipates, AMSA urged EPA to support a national mercury variance strategy so that every POTW would not be required to develop individual compliance solutions. AMSA expressed support for using Ohio's mercury variance as a template for a national strategy to ensure that POTWs are not held to unattainable mercury limits if source control measures fail to attain 1 to 3 parts per trillion effluent limits, like those being driven by the Great Lakes Water Quality Initiative (GLWQI).

EPA Considers Ohio Mercury Variance As Template For the Nation

In response to AMSA's suggestion, EPA indicated that Ohio's mercury variance is acceptable because it features pollution prevention program requirements. EPA expressed concern, however, that some states' current programs might not allow for such additional requirements in their variance processes and noted that endangered species concerns will require states to address these issues in the future. EPA will further consider the national variance strategy concept and requested AMSA's assistance in defining the minimum requirements of a source control plan that could serve as a template for POTWs seeking a variance similar to Ohio's.

Another major issue for AMSA is the GLWQI mercury wildlife criteria methodology— used to determine acceptable mercury exposure levels for species in the Great Lakes. AMSA pressed EPA to update the methodology based on new data presented in EPA's Mercury Study Report to Congress. Updating the methodology could lead to significantly less stringent wildlife criteria. EPA stressed that limited staff resources will prevent the agency from addressing this issue in 1999, but at the same time EPA allowed for possible site-specific criteria development to assuage local concerns.

EPA presented its plans to conduct a validation study of the more affordable mercury detection method 245.7 in response to AMSA's petition last year. EPA expects to publish the proposed method by the end of the summer, leaving open the possibility of interim approval. AMSA's Mercury Workgroup and EPA will meet again in May, during the Association's National Environmental Policy Forum in Washington D.C., to discuss these issues further.

AMSA Meets With Senate Staff on Potential CWA Legislation

Late Friday, AMSA concluded its meeting with the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee staff to discuss our legislative priorities, such as the wet weather bill, nonpoint sources, and funding.