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Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 10:54am

Federal Officials Considering Savannah River Site As Mercury Storage

The federal government has 10,000 metric tons of mercury it must store, and the Savannah River Site near Augusta is one of the places they're eyeing to be the storage site.

The action comes as a the date to comply with a law prohibiting the sale or export of elemental mercury approaches. The law will require the federal government to store it by 2013.

The U.S. Department of Energy will hold a public meeting about the idea on Thursday near Augusta to hear comments from the public and to explain the process.

The Savannah River Site is a massive federal entity that processes nuclear materials. It's one of seven sites under consideration for the mercury storage.

The idea is controversial, with proponents saying storing the mercury on a federal site will reduce exposure to the dangerous element. But opponents worry about the safety of people who live near the site.

Mercury is produced in the manufacturing of caustic soda and chlorine at a handful of plants in the U.S. It's also a by-product in gold mining, and in recycling and waste recovery. Mercury causes developmental disabilities in children, and also harms fetal development.

Mercury is already a sore spot in Augusta, where environmental groups have been calling for the Olin Corporation to stop using the element in the manufacture of chlorine. A bill in Congress also seeks to eliminate mercury from the few chlorine plants that still use it. Olin, meanwhile, has maintained that its mercury use is safe.

The energy department's will host an open house at 5:30 p.m. at the North Augusta Municipal Center, 100 Georgia Avenue, in North Augusta, South Carolina. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.