Rocky Mountain Chapter

Pueblo Mercury Project to reduce toxic mercury risks in Pueblo County

By Carol Carpenter

The residents of Pueblo, Colo., are the beneficiaries of a welcome $100,000 grant through the Pueblo Mercury Project (PMP) to help remove mercury from homes, schools, businesses, and other buildings in the local area. The project will also provide the community with information and educational programs about the risks and proper management of this highly toxic element.

High mercury emissions, mostly from the local steel mill, have been a big problem in the Pueblo area for years, with more reported emissions in Pueblo County than in other parts of Colorado.

Alicia Solis, technical director of Citizens for Clean Air in Pueblo for Education, Research and Action (CCAP-ERA) which is directing the project, is pleased that money is now available to help remove mercury from the Pueblo area.

“The majority of emissions that are released affect the Pueblo area more than other Colorado communities,” she said. “While the project does not directly reduce mercury emissions, it does help remove mercury from the community and educates people about the risks and proper handling of mercury.”

The main goal of the project, Solis said, is to reach many sectors of the community, especially low-income populations. “We intend to conduct community presentations, place informational articles in the local newspapers, place information on the community access channel, use all outlets of social media, and work with and educate high school and college students,” she explained.

EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel Mills
EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel Mills.

Mercury emission sources

According to Larry Howe-Kerr, Energy Committee vice-chair for the Sierra Club’s Sangre de Cristo Group and executive director of Better Pueblo─a long-standing civic organization committed to the quality of life in the Pueblo area─the majority of mercury emissions in Pueblo County come from EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel Mills. The emissions come primarily from recycled automobiles that contain mercury switches.

Although mercury emissions reported by the mill in recent years have been lowered─primarily as a result of the introduction of improved monitoring technology─it remains the largest contributor to mercury emissions in Colorado.

Other major emitters of mercury in Colorado include Xcel Energy’s three coal-fired power plants and two cement plants, one that is located just west of the Pueblo County line in Fremont County.

Fortunately, in recent years Xcel has taken steps to reduce mercury emissions by placing additional mercury pollution controls on all three of the coal-fired units in Pueblo. These new controls, plus the funds for the mercury removal and education project, meet the requirements of a 2004 settlement agreement that the Sierra Club, Better Pueblo, and other groups negotiated with Xcel Energy.

Xcel Comanche Plant
Xcel Comanche Plant.

“Due to the settlement agreement, it appears that greater mercury reduction has been accomplished. However, I do not know just how much. As we know, any mercury emissions are not good,” Howe-Kerr said.

Better Pueblo is partnering with CCAP-ERA, which is directing the PMP.

Howe-Kerr said the agreement itself led to new technology for both monitoring and reducing mercury emissions. “The community was very supportive of a similar mercury project that ended a few months ago. We expect that support to continue,” he said. “The CCAP-ERA staff will make it successful because they have very recent experience and proven competence and success.”

Pueblo Mercury Project programs

The project will focus on:
○    Educating the public on exposure to mercury pollution.
○    Reducing the presence and use of mercury-containing products in the local community, with an emphasis on low-income households and small businesses, and substituting equipment that will reduce consumption of electricity (e.g. thermostats, light bulbs, thermometers).
○    Developing youth environmental leadership and participation through community interaction.

Specifically, the project will reduce the risk of exposure to mercury in participating homes by removing and replacing old mercury-containing thermostats and/or incandescent and non-functioning CFL light bulbs with programmable thermostats and LED light bulbs. The project will also provide incentives to schools, small businesses and non-profits to recycle their mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs.

Additionally, the project will educate residents on what mercury is, where it can be found, its harmful health effects, bioaccumulation and biomagnification, how to prevent mercury spills and how to properly dispose of mercury containing products as household hazardous waste.

Residents will be asked to sign up for a program to exchange mercury containing thermostats in homes or offices with programmable, mercury-free thermostats. Licensed electricians who install thermostats will program them for maximum energy efficiency and instruct occupants on their use.

Solis said Pueblo citizens have responded positively to this new project that began in July. “So far the public has shown gratitude toward a project that will help lower home energy costs, show them how to properly dispose of items containing mercury, and educate them on the health hazards of mercury exposure,” she added.


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