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Letter to Acting Director Perciasepe - Mercury Discharge


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today wrote a letter to Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging action to protect Lake Michigan from the harmful mercury pollution discharged by the British Petroleum (BP) Whiting Refinery, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Chicago.

"BP Whiting Refinery remains one of only a few industrial polluters that release wastewater containing traces of mercury into the southern half of Lake Michigan," wrote Senator Kirk, who is co-chair of the Senate's Great Lakes Task Force. "Allowing the continuation of toxic chemicals, such as mercury, to be dumped into the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for more than thirty million Americans, is unacceptable."

Since his time in the House of Representatives, Kirk has consistently fought to protect the Great Lakes from harmful pollution. In July 2007, the Chicago Tribune published a report on BP's efforts to increase pollution in Lake Michigan and expand its plant in Whiting. Then-Representative Kirk led the charge with other federal officials to stop the BP Refinery from dumping increased amounts of pollutants such as ammonia and Total Suspended Solids into the wastewater. Kirk, along with Representative Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.-3), wrote a letter to the CEO of BP urging him to reconsider the destructive policy. Kirk also led a delegation of 19 other Members of Congress in writing to the EPA urging a formal review of the permit issued by Indiana. That same summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution Kirk cosponsored that condemned BP for degrading the Great Lakes. Ultimately, BP agreed not to increase the amount of toxic pollutants discharged into the lake and to develop new technology for its Whiting location to reduce mercury pollution.

On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) was circulating a draft permit that would allow BP to circumvent installing new, successfully tested technology to reduce mercury contamination in Lake Michigan. An estimated 880 pounds of mercury pollute Lake Michigan each year. Mercury bioaccumulates in bacteria and fish, and when eaten it can cause brain and nervous system disorders.

As recently as last week, Lake Michigan swimmers were evacuated from Porter Beach and Indiana Dunes State Park Beach after authorities noticed people leaving the water with a metallic, silvery substance on their bodies. A nearby lab is still analyzing the substance.

A copy of Senator Kirk's letter to the EPA can be found below.

June 25, 2013

Dear Acting Administrator Perciasepe:

I write regarding the proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) for the BP Products North America Inc. Whiting Refinery. I worry that the permit lacks adequate safeguards to reduce mercury discharges into the Great Lakes, posing significant risks to our environment and public health. I urge you to use your authority to protect Lake Michigan and millions of Illinoisans from harmful pollution discharged by the BP Whiting Refinery, located approximately twenty miles southeast of Chicago.

In 2007, BP agreed to clean up its act, reduce the amount of pollution dumped into the Great Lakes and develop technology that could dramatically decrease the amount of mercury discharged into Lake Michigan by the Whiting Refinery. More than five years later we continue to see elevated levels of mercury in effluent discharged into Lake Michigan. On June 23, 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that the BP Whiting refinery remains one of only a few industrial polluters that release wastewater containing traces of mercury into the southern half of Lake Michigan. Allowing the continuation of toxic chemicals, such as mercury, to be dumped into the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for more than 30 million Americans, is unacceptable.

While I am encouraged that the proposed permit released by IDEM includes more stringent limitations for ammonia and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) over the next five years, I am deeply disturbed that the permit allows the Whiting Refinery to legally discharge an annual average of 23.1 parts per trillion of mercury into Lake Michigan-- nearly 20 times the federal Great Lakes water quality standard of 1.3 parts per trillion. It appears that the proposed permit fails to contain any enforceable deadlines that require BP to bring its mercury pollution to the federal standard and does not provide any guidance on the criteria for deciding when the technology is successful in filtering mercury and can be readily deployed. Instead the permit gives BP another five-year pass, stipulating only that BP further study mercury technology and report back to IDEM by March 2015.

We should be taking every precaution to protect the public from harmful effects of mercury contamination and work to enhance the water quality of the Great Lakes, not knowingly degrade the environment of our lakes even further. Each year Great Lakes states issue advisories to residents limiting the consumption of specific types of fish due to the risk of mercury contamination. Your own agency estimates that more than 300,000 newborns in the United States are exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in utero every year. Mercury bio-accumulates in fish and, when eaten, contaminated fish can cause brain and nervous system disorders, particularly in children.

I urge the Environmental Protection Agency to thoroughly review the draft NPDES permit issued by IDEM and ensure that the permit requirements comply with federal standards and uphold the Clean Water Act. As both Congress and the Administration work together to restore and protect the Great Lakes, it is unimaginable that we continue to permit harmful compounds to be discharged into our water supply.


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