Company bypasses mercury storage

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Mercury can be converted from a silvery liquid to pellets that can disposed of safely, said the president of a company that now sends it to a landfill in Canada.

Bethlehem Apparatus Co. of Hellertown, Pa., wants to dispose of the federal government’s mercury, not store it.

Storage has become controversial in Grand Junction as the Department of Energy considers a site south of the city, among other sites around the country, for storage of mercury in heavy steel flasks.

Bruce Lawrence, president of Bethlehem Apparatus, said his company has a better way to handle the stuff.

“I’m interested in retiring it,”  said Lawrence, whose family-owned company has been in the mercury recycling business since 1950.

By retire, he means to restore it to the form in which it’s frequently found in nature, a mineral known as cinnabar, or red mercury sulfide.

The mercury sulfide he turns out “has the same structure” of naturally occurring cinnabar and has a low rate of leaching, which means it can be returned to the larger environment from which it came, Lawrence said.

He now is sending some retired mercury to Canada and is getting ready to begin talks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration for permission to put polyethylene pellets of red mercury sulfide into a domestic disposal, he said.

If he can get EPA approval, Lawrence said, he’d like to take the mercury off the government’s hands.

“They have to announce their costs at some point,” he said. “I’m hoping I can keep my costs just under theirs.”

He’ll submit comments to the Energy Department as it draws up a draft environmental-impact statement on the mercury-storage proposal, he said.

Other sites under consideration for mercury storage are the Hanford Site in Richland, Wash., Hawthorne Army Depot in Hawthorne, Nev., Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the Kansas City Plant, Kansas City, Mo.

The only private applicant for taking the federal government’s mercury stores is considering backing out.

“We’ve got a pretty full plate,” said Tom Jones of Waste Control Specialists of Andrews, Texas, who emphasized that his company simply responded to a letter of interest from the federal agency. “We’re probably not going to stay in the running for it.”
Energy Department officials said they hadn’t heard the company was no longer interested in storing mercury.

The Energy Department has been required by law to designate one or more storage sites by Jan. 1, 2010, and have a facility in operation by the beginning of 2013.


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