WASHINGTON, D.C.— This week, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), introduced legislation to address potentially hazardous mercury vapor emissions from synthetic flooring commonly found in schools and other locations.
Recent reports reveal that mercury vapor may be released into the air from rubberized flooring made using phenyl mercuric acetate (PMA), which was widely installed in schools, retirement homes, community centers, and other public spaces across our nation starting in the 1960s. Mercury vapor is a known neurotoxin with potentially serious health impacts, particularly in children and other vulnerable populations.
“Under no circumstance should the health and safety of our nation’s children be jeopardized while they are in school,” said Senator Booker. “This legislation takes important steps to establish the risk from these floors and develop guidance for schools to address this preventable hazard. Every single child deserves access to education without risk of toxic exposure.”
While several states, including New Jersey, have recently adopted standards for maximum mercury vapor levels considered safe for school children and staff, there is currently no federal standard for air contamination from PMA flooring. According to reports, multiple schools in New Jersey alone have been found to have emissions that exceed the state limit, with hundreds more left untested.
The Mercury Vapor Study Act of 2020 would help address this potential health hazard by requiring federal agencies to study the impact on human health of mercury vapor from PMA flooring and develop an official risk assessment model. The bill also requires that the agencies create a registry of schools with PMA flooring and make schools aware of the risk from these floors, and best practices to mitigate the risk of mercury vapor exposure.
“The Healthy Schools Now coalition thanks Senator Booker for taking steps to address the issue of toxic mercury in floors, found in our nation's schools,” said Heather L. Sorge, Campaign Organizer for Healthy Schools Now, Work Environment Council of New Jersey. “School children and staff go to school to learn and teach, not to be exposed to toxic chemicals. Identification, testing, and transparent data collection of mercury floors is paramount to understanding the scope of the issue and lead to remediating it.”
“Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that harms the developing brains of children and babies,” said Trisha Dello Iacono, National Field Manager, Moms Clean Air Force. “It seems obvious that harmful toxins do not belong in children's schools. Yet a school that my own son previously attended has floors that contain mercury, exposing him and his classmates to unacceptable health risks. Moms across the country are deeply concerned about why this was allowed to happen. And we are driven to make sure that this toxin is removed from the places where our children learn and play. That is why Moms Clean Air Force applauds the Senator's efforts to protect our children from harmful mercury exposure."
In June 2019, Booker urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate potentially hazardous emissions from flooring containing PMA, and called on the agency to work with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to evaluate the risk of mercury exposure from the flooring and communicate the potential hazards to school districts and the general public.