PORTLAND (AP) – Maine’s State House this year passed two new laws on mercury, earning high marks from a group that aims to eliminate mercury emissions in New England.

The New England Zero Mercury Campaign on Tuesday gave Maine a B-plus, a higher grade than any other state in the region, in a report that assessed states’ efforts to combat mercury pollution. New England as a whole fell to a C-plus grade from a B-minus in last year’s report.

The campaign praised Maine for tripling the number of collection sites for mercury thermostat recycling, but criticized the state’s failure to make manufacturers responsible for the collection and recycling of the thermostats. Maine lost points because the State House did not ban mercury button cell batteries, which are exempt from a state law that requires mercury-containing products to be labeled and can be disposed of in landfills and incinerators.

“Although Maine is doing well in the last year or so, we haven’t done as much as we usually do, so we need to continue to keep up the momentum to reach the goal of the northeastern governors,” said Steve Gurney, science and policy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

In the report, campaigners suggested that the Maine Bureau of Health require retailers that sell fish to post mercury warnings for consumers.

But Andrew Smith, the state toxicologist and director of the health bureau’s environmental health unit, said the idea doesn’t target the most vulnerable populations.

“We think a far more effective means is the one we’re doing, which is to directly target women of childbearing age and young kids,” he said.

Maine has distributed information on mercury and fish consumption to ob-gyn clinics, nurse-midwives, general and family practitioners, and the Women, Infants and Children program.

Maine came out on top in awareness of mercury’s health risks in a 12-state survey, Smith said. Preliminary data from another survey shows that awareness among Maine women has increased from 30 percent in 2000 to 60 percent today.

Smith said he’s also concerned that grocry store warnings would drive people away from eating any fish at all.

“For most people, there’s few restrictions if any on eating fish,” Smith said. “We’re trying to get them to eat more.”

AP-ES-08-18-04 0217EDT

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