Ohio River water quality commission punts on tougher mercury rul - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Ohio River water quality commission punts on tougher mercury rule

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An agency overseeing the Ohio River’s water quality won’t enforce new mercury rules set to start this month, despite the objections of clean water advocates.

At issue are so-called “mixing zones” that allow older industries to take mercury readings farther away from the point of release -- thereby exceeding current pollution standards.

At a meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the eight-state Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission voted to scrap a ban on so-called “mixing zones” that was to take effect Oct. 16, according to a news release. Companies had been given a decade to prepare for the ban, which would have required them to measure mercury discharges at the “end of pipe.”

The commission – known as ORSANCO – said it still wants to eliminate the mixing zones. But it said decisions allowing companies to use the zones now will be made by state officials and be “subject to more formal opportunities for public comment and judicial review of the permitting decision.”

ORSANCO noted in its release that companies that began discharging mercury and 21 other “chemicals of concern” since 2003 still can’t use the mixing zones.

Leading up to Thursday’s vote, a group of older industries upstream from Louisville had pushed to be excused from the new rules, citing the cost of coming into compliance.

Environmental and clean water groups said they were “disappointed” in the commission’s decision.

By letting individual states decide, “there will likely be no unified standard,” the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Environmental Law & Policy Center said in a statement.

“We are extremely disappointed for all of the fishermen and families that eat fish from the river daily, and disappointed for the public at large,” said Tim Joice, water policy director for the Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

The comments received during a public input process overwhelmingly wanted ORSANCO to enforce the ban.

A form of mercury builds up in fish and can be hazardous to people who eat it, especially pregnant women, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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