EPA finalizes first-ever mercury limits for ore processors

By Hannah Northey | 02/09/2024 04:07 PM EST

The rule is expected to cut about 33 percent of the neurotoxin each year, thereby reducing deposits on Midwest lands and waters.

A front-end loader sits by a stockpile of coarse taconite tailings.

A front-end loader sits by a stockpile of coarse taconite tailings, the residue of the process that extracts iron from taconite, at Ispat Inland Mining's Minorca mine in Virginia, Minnesota. A new rule aims to limit mercury emissions at taconite processing plants. Julia Cheng/AP

EPA has finalized the nation’s first-ever limits on emissions of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage, at taconite plants, but environmental groups and Great Lakes tribes say the protections don’t go far enough.

The Clean Air Act rule sets for the first time limits on mercury pollution at a handful of Midwestern iron ore processing plants. The rule is expected to reduce about 33 percent — or 247 pounds — of mercury each year, ultimately reducing the amount that’s deposited over the Midwest’s lands and waters, according to EPA.

Taconite iron ore processing plants are used to separate and concentrate iron ore from taconite, a low-grade iron ore. The plants produce taconite pellets, which are used in blast furnaces to make iron and steel and in the cement industry.


Mercury pollution that falls onto the Great Lakes can transform to methylmercury, a powerful neurotoxin that can bioaccumulate in fish and is linked to brain damage in babies, as well as kidney and nervous system damage in adults.

EPA’s rule, a direct response to a court-ordered deadline, has emerged as a point of contention between industry and American Indian tribes and environmental groups that have pushed to strengthen the proposal.

Environmental groups and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Chair Kevin Dupuis in a statement Friday jointly criticized the rule and called for more robust protections.

“This rule is not enough,” said Dupuis. “We call on the EPA to recognize our treaty rights and work with us to develop solutions that protect our people and the environment we cherish.”