U.S. EPA recognizes mercury minimization efforts

BOWLING GREEN, O.—The success of what began as a Bowling Green State University campus program has earned its director an honor from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

David Heinlen recently received the Champion Award for his contributions to the agency's National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) program through BGSU's Elemental Mercury Collection and Reclamation Program.

According to the agency, the award “recognizes individuals who not only lead their own organization's efforts in waste minimization, but also reach outside their organizations to discover and promote other opportunities to achieve additional NPEP goals.”

BGSU started the mercury collection and reclamation program, led by Heinlen, the University's safety and health coordinator, in January 1998. Nearly nine years later, more than 14,600 pounds of the potent neurotoxin have been collected free of charge from individuals, academic institutions, small businesses, governmental agencies, and industrial, medical and dental facilities. A “priority pollutant” for the U.S. EPA, mercury is present in many everyday items, such s thermometers, and poses a significant health risk when inhaled.

“When we first started, we wanted to do what we could to get the material out of the University,” recalled Heinlen, whose work also helped the program earn a National Safety Council award in 2003. The effort then expanded through Ohio counties and the entire state, he added, noting, for example, an exchange program in which grant money paid for digital thermometers to replace 8,500 mercury thermometers in 22 southeast Ohio counties.

Now, “we collect mercury from all over,” including the five states that border Ohio plus Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, he said. And an inquiry was recently received about 85 pounds of mercury in a Sacramento, Calif., dental office.

“The strength of the program is the partners” who help with collection of the material, some of which is reclaimed for use in devices such as barometers and industrial temperature and pressure gauges, Heinlen explained.

In presenting the award, the U.S. EPA expressed “congratulations and appreciation to Joe Rader of Rader Environmental Services for his assistance in BGSU's efforts.” In addition to that Findlay business, the University's partners include the five Ohio EPA district offices; the Ohio Spill Planning, Prevention and Emergency Response Association, and Toledo Environmental Services, which removes elemental mercury in Toledo.

In 2004, Bowling Green became the first university partner in the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities, then called the National Waste Minimization Partnership Program. Last year, BGSU received an Achievement Award as the partnership's first Mercury Challenge Supporter, having posed—and met—a challenge to collect at least 3,000 pounds of mercury over three years. The program is well on its way to meeting a second challenge, to reach the 15,350-pound mark by April 2008.

“There's plenty more out there,” said Heinlen, adding that an effort is under way to establish “clone programs” in the other eight U.S. EPA regions nationwide. “If we were able to assist in the development of programs in the others, that would be great.”

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(Posted November 03, 2006 )