EPA applauds BGSU efforts to reclaim mercury

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Over the past decade, nearly 10 tons of mercury have been removed from the environment through a Bowling Green State University program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is very pleased about that.

David Heinlen, director of BGSU's Elemental Mercury Collection and Reclamation Program, recently accepted the agency's National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) Achievement Award. The award honors the University for surpassing an EPA challenge goal and collecting 7,100 pounds of mercury in 15 months.

“The thing that is so exciting is that Bowling Green is one of the few schools that is doing this,” according to Janet Haff of the U.S. EPA's Region Five office in Chicago. Haff came to campus Dec. 4 to officially present a plaque—made of recycled wood—to the University. Heinlen had been unable to attend a national awards ceremony held earlier in Washington, D.C.

Removing mercury from the environment is important, Haff said, because it means the reclaimed material will not be released into the air or the water supply.

Considered a “priority pollutant” by the EPA, mercury is present in a number of everyday items such as thermometers, pressure gauges, barometers and thermostats, and can be a significant health risk when inhaled.

“Most organizations we work with through the NPEP program are industries and there is a business payback for them to reclaim mercury. They are able to collect maybe three to five pounds of mercury in a year. What Bowling Green is doing is phenomenal. It is huge. We really can't thank you enough for being such a good partner in these efforts for the environment,” Haff told campus representatives.

BGSU started the mercury collection and reclamation program in January 1998 under the leadership of Heinlen, the University's safety and health coordinator. Since then, nearly 20,000 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.

Although it began on a small scale—just to collect mercury locally—the BGSU program now encompasses the entire state of Ohio and five bordering states plus Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia.

The strength of the program, Heinlen says, lies with the University's partners throughout each of those states who help collect the material.

Heinlen particularly expressed appreciation to Joe Rader of Rader Environmental Services in Findlay for his volunteer work in traveling to collect and consolidate materials for the program, and for the collaborative efforts of partners in numerous district EPA offices throughout the multistate area BGSU now serves.

Bowling Green became the first university partner in the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities in 2004. In 2005, the University received an EPA 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. Last year Heinlen won the EPA's Champion Award for leading BGSU's reclamation efforts.

The program also has received recognition from the National Safety Council.

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(Posted December 12, 2007)

Updated: 12/02/2017 01:16AM