The University and its safety and health coordinator, David Heinlen, have received national recognition for a mercury collection and reclamation program that has reached into 13 other states.
The list of honors lengthened Dec. 3 with the addition of an award from the program’s home state. BGSU joined seven businesses and a Cincinnati hospital as recipients of the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Stewardship, presented by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
Nearly 11 years after its inception in January 1998, the program has collected about 23,300 pounds of mercury free of charge from individuals, academic institutions, small businesses, governmental agencies, and industrial, medical and dental facilities. The potent neurotoxin is present in many everyday items—thermometers, for example—and poses an increased health risk when inhaled. Individuals most at risk include small children, infants and unborn fetuses whose central nervous systems are not fully developed.
“The university has implemented measures that have resulted in more efficient and cost-effective processing of mercury and mercury-containing items,” according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which announced the recipients. Some of the collected material is reclaimed for use in devices such as barometers and industrial temperature and pressure gauges.
“It’s really, in my opinion, done a lot of good,” said Heinlen of the program, which he hopes to maintain, he added, “to help a lot of people.” Its efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, either, as evidenced by a National Safety Council award in 2003 and honors in 2005 and 2006 from the United States EPA, which considers mercury a “priority pollutant.”
Bowling Green became, in 2004, the first university partner in U.S. EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities, then called the National Waste Minimization Partnership Program. The following year, BGSU received an Achievement Award as the partnership’s first Mercury Challenge Supporter, and Heinlen was presented a Champion Award in 2006 for his contributions to the national program.
He cites a number of partners for their help with the mercury initiative, led by Joe Rader of Rader Environmental Services in Findlay. “Without his efforts, it wouldn’t be where it is today,” said Heinlen, noting that Rader made collection in other states possible. Those states now include the five that border Ohio, plus California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Among the other program partners are the five Ohio EPA district offices; Toledo Environmental Services, which removes elemental mercury in Toledo, and similar services in Defiance and Williams counties and the city of Delaware; numerous Ohio emergency management agencies and health departments—including the Columbus and Franklin County departments—and some wastewater treatment facilities. The University is also part of the Ohio Mercury Reduction Group.
The Governor’s Award is the second for BGSU and Heinlen, who also received one in 1994 from then-Gov. George Voinovich for the Orphan Chemical Recycling Program. In that program, which is still in existence, the University acts as a clearinghouse for unwanted but useful chemicals from other institutions and research and development facilities, making them available online to schools, for example, at no charge.