- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - Some
400 coal burning power plants in 43 states are emitting an estimated 98,000
pounds of mercury into the air each year, reveals a new report by a coalition
of environmental groups. The report is the first to document the amount
of mercury pollution generated by individual electric power companies nationwide.
- The report, "Mercury Falling: An Analysis of Mercury
Pollution from Coal Burning Power Plants," was released Wednesday
by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Clean Air Network (CAN) and the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The groups analyzed the results
of mercury coal sampling conducted by power companies from January 1999
through June 1999. The utilities were required to sample mercury in the
coal they burned in 1999 due to an NRDC lawsuit filed in 1993.
- Environmental groups charge coal burning power plants
with spewing hundreds of pounds of mercury into the air each year (Two
photos by Carole Swinehart, courtesy Michigan Sea Extension) Besides documenting
mercury discharges to the air, the report also uncovered an estimated 81,000
pounds of mercury tainted solid waste discharged by power plants each year.
- The biggest mercury polluters, according to the report,
are the Southern Company, American Electric Power, Edison International
and the Tennessee Valley Authority. These companies accounted for nearly
20 percent of all power plant mercury pollution in the U.S.
- "Mercury is one of the most toxic substances we
know, and yet the federal government does not regulate mercury emissions
or waste from power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution,"
sayd David Hawkins, a senior attorney at NRDC and a coauthor of the report.
"We found that the biggest mercury polluters are the same utility
companies that the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) recently sued for failing to install modern pollution controls
as required by the Clean Air Act."
- The EPA and New York are suing the owners of 16 coal
burning power plants over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. They
accuse the companies of making major upgrades at their facilities without
installing new pollution controls, which is illegal under the Act. Connecticut
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Wednesday that Connecticut
is joining the lawsuit.
- The environmental groups releasing yesterday,s report
are adding mercury to the list of power plant pollutants that pose a risk
to public health. They are calling on the EPA to develop national controls
for utilities, mercury stack emissions and toxic wastes.
- Many of the worst mercury polluters are also accused
by the EPA of illegally upgrading without installing pollution controls
The groups are also calling on Congress to pass legislation to set strict
emissions caps on mercury and other common pollutants from power plants,
such as smog forming nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide.
- The pollution from these plants is creating "smog
and acid rain, polluting Long Island Sound, fouling our air and rivers
and aggravating and creating respiratory problems, even shortening lives,"
said Blumenthal. Eastern states are unable to comply with federal clean
air standards because of this interstate pollution, he said.
- Like other air pollutants, mercury is carried downwind,
contaminating both local and distant rivers and lakes.
- Other pollutants from power plants are measured in tons,
so mercury releases may appear small in comparison. But mercury is highly
toxic. A mere 1/70th of a teaspoon (one gram) falling into a 25 acre lake
each year could contaminate its fish to the point that they are unsafe
- Mercury is a heavy metal. Like lead, it affects the central
nervous system, putting children in utero, infants and young children at
highest risk. People who eat a lot of fish, including Native Americans
and subsistence fishermen, are also at risk.
- Mercury from power plants that ends up in lakes or streams
can make fish unsafe to eat (Photo courtesy Center for Great Lakes and
Aquatic Sciences) "These power plants are contaminating the food we
eat and the air we breathe," says EWG,s John Cocquyt, who did the
report,s data analysis. "It,s time to close the loopholes in the Clean
Air Act that allow this to continue."
- Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would
force utilities to cut mercury emissions by as much as 90 percent over
the next five years. But environmentalists say more could be done in the
near term. CAN, EWG and NRDC are calling on the EPA to set tight controls
on mercury stack emissions and toxic coal waste, two issues that the agency
has promised to announced decisions on within the next year.
- "Electric power companies have convinced policy
makers that pollution controls will cause national power outages,"
says Felice Stadler, CAN policy director and one of the report,s authors.
"They,re lying. Other utilities have upgraded their pollution controls
without leaving their customers in the dark. Generating electricity should
not endanger the public health or contaminate our food supply."
- Responding to the EPA,s allegations that they performed
illegal upgrades without installing emissions control equipment, the power
plant owners have said that they did only routine maintenance and repairs
at the plants, and that the EPA was aware of what they were doing. Karen
Meinke, spokesperson for Cinergy Corp., told ENS the company disagrees
with the states and the EPA.
- "We had been working with the EPA" for years,
said Meinke. "We certainly feel that we have been operating all of
our plants within our environmental permits." In the 1980s, Cingery
was working on its Beckjord plant in New Richmond, Ohio, one of the plants
named in the lawsuits. "EPA was onsite and fully aware of what we
were doing," Meinke says. "It begs the question why has it taken
this many years for the EPA to decide on this action?"
- The mercury report, and tables listing power plant polluters
in each state, are available online at: <http://www.ewg.orgwww.ewg.org
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Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.