The House on Monday sent to President Bush a bill sponsored by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama that would eventually ban the export of elemental mercury.
The United States is one of the world's biggest exporters of mercury, a neurotoxin that is harmful to humans, especially pregnant women, newborns and children. In the 2000-2004 period the United States exported 506 more metric tons than it imported and the legislation notes that the export ban would have a notable affect on the market availability of elemental mercury.
Elemental mercury can be found in thermometers, barometers, dental amalgams and batteries. The main source of pollution comes from mercury exported for use in foreign mining operations and other industrial processes.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement that the measure "puts an end to the cycle of poison where this dangerous neurotoxin is being phased out by industry and the government here in the United States, but then our surplus mercury is shipped overseas to developing countries."
Under the legislation, passed by the House on a 393-5 vote, the ban on federal sale and export of elemental mercury would take effect as soon as the president signs the bill into law.
All exports of elemental mercury would be banned as of Jan. 1, 2013. As of 2010 the bill would provide a long-term management and storage option for elemental mercury generated by the private sector.
Within a year after the bill is enacted, the Environmental Protection Agency is to report to Congress on the sources and amounts of mercury compounds used, processed and imported into or exported from the United States.
Elemental mercury, a dense, shiny, silver-colored metal, is the pure form of mercury. There are also inorganic mercury compounds used in fungicides and antiseptics and organic mercury compounds such as methylmercury.
As many as 630,000 children born annually in the United States are at risk of neurological problems related to mercury.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and by Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine in the House, passed the Senate on Friday.