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Chicago Tribune - Obama-Sponsored Mercury-Storage Bill Sent to President Bush

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Chicago Tribune - Obama-Sponsored Mercury-Storage Bill Sent to President Bush

Legislation would ban export of the metal in 2013

Chicago Tribune By MICHAEL HAWTHORNE

Stockpiles of toxic mercury kept by industry soon will be stored safely in the United States instead of ending up on the world market where it might pollute the environment.

Under bipartisan legislation Congress sent to President George W. Bush Monday for his expected signature, mercury exports would be banned in 2013 and the Energy Department would be required to store the heavy metal permanently.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Barack Obama, introduced the bill in response to a 2005 Tribune series about mercury contamination in fish.

Although the number of U.S. companies that use mercury in industrial processes or products is declining, concerns are growing over exporting the silvery metal to loosely regulated industries in developing countries.

Much of the exported mercury is released into the atmosphere by small-scale gold-mining operations, thermometer manufacturers and chemical plants in developing countries. Scientists say some of that air pollution can drift back to the U.S. and contaminate lakes and rivers, undercutting aggressive efforts to keep mercury out of the environment.

The dangers of mercury exposure are greatest for young children and women of childbearing age who eat contaminated fish.

"We know that mercury can cause serious developmental problems in children and problems affecting vision, motor skills, blood pressure and fertility in adults," Obama said in a statement. "While the United States has improved its efforts to collect and contain mercury, this country remains one of the leading exporters of this dangerous product."

Under pressure from Obama and a handful of other senators, the Energy Department last year agreed to keep its own 1,300-ton stockpile of mercury off the market. The metal once was used to process material for hydrogen bombs.


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