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EPA Ponders Ban on Mercury Emissions From Electrolysis

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public input on which of two options for reducing mercury emissions produced as a byproduct of chlorine and sodium hydroxide production would be most effective.

The agency is revising its national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants related to the mercury cell electrolysis process.

The first option is to ban mercury emissions, which the agency admits would essentially make it impossible for mercury based electrolysis facilities to continue to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide without conversion to non-mercury production processes. The benefit of mercury is that after the electrolysis process most of the mercury is captured and reused.

The agency estimates it would cost $13 million to convert all current mercury based facilities to non-mercury technology. However the reduced public health costs and administrative costs as a result of eliminating mercury emissions could be between $8 and $27 million in the year 2013 alone, the agency said.

The second option is the Enhanced Work Practices Option which would allow mercury based facilities to continue operation if they installed continuous mercury monitoring equipment and scrubbers to shut down operations when mercury is detected and capture it before it escapes into the environment.

The facilities also would have to adopt more stringent work practices to reduce emissions, including weekly reviews of emission events and more thorough clean-up and maintenance of reaction vessels.

A monitoring system would cost around $120,000 in initial outlays for the system, and the more stringent work practices would add at least $25,000 per year of operation, per plant. There are currently seven mercury based facilities operating in the United States.

Comments on the two options must be received by the agency by May 13, 2011.

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