Citizens voice concerns over proposed mercury storage site

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Mesa County is on a federal shortlist to store thousands of metric tons of mercury. Tuesday night, the U.S. Department of Energy held a public meeting where residents could voice their opinions.

After Congress passed a ban on exporting mercury in 2008, it charged the U.S. Department of Energy to find place here at home where the toxic substance could be safely stored. Tuesday night, federal officials explained why they're looking Mesa County.

"Grand Junction has some of the qualities that would be needed to store this material," said Bill Levitan, who works for the Office of Compliance within the U.S. Department of Energy.

They say the area near Whitewater being considered has been well studied and is already owned by the Department. They say it's close to a transportation hub and it's near a DOE office that deals with uranium and other hazardous materials.

"They are specialized in managing these types of facilities and these types of materials," said Levitan. "So we have the expertise right here."

Under the proposal, 7,500 to 10,000 metric tons of mercury would be kept in storage containers inside a specially designed and sealed facility.

"Currently and as long as it's stored here, mercury is stored in very safe containers approved by the Department of Transportation," said Levitan.

While many in the crowd didn't doubt the fact that precautions would be taken, they felt the DOE needed to think about the "what if" situations before making a decision.

"I think there's a great opportunity or possibility of accidents or exposure to mercury," said Nancy Terrill, a concerned citizen who attended the meeting. "It's a serious, real issue to people's health."

Terrill told DOE officials she was diagnosed with mercury poisoning six years ago. She says the only explanation doctors could give her was that she was exposed to it through the environment.

"It took me two years and a lot of money to get rid of it," said Terrill. "I'm just very concerned about storing it here."

She hopes the DOE will strongly consider another location, noting that Mesa County already has to deal with the impacts of uranium, mining, and drilling.

"I think we have enough toxins in Mesa County," said Terrill.

But she says she understands the mercury will have to go somewhere.

"If they do decide this is the very best place in the country, I hope they put in the most careful safeguards and ultimate protections," said Terrill.

Department officials say it's comments like hers that will help them reach an ultimate decision.

"The decision will not be made for at least another year," said Levitan.

The U.S. Department of Energy will continue to accept public comments on the matter through August 24. Officials say residents will get another opportunity to make comments after that during a meeting this fall.

You can make a comment in the following ways:
By phone -- call 1-877-274-5462
By mail -- David Levenstein, EIS Document Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
P.O. Box 2612
Germantown, MD 20874
Over the Internet -- click on the link below:

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