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Power Plants: Unrivaled Sources of Mercury Air Pollution

When it comes to mercury pollution, coal-fired power plants are king. Two recent reports—one from the Environmental Integrity Project, the other from Environment America—take a look at the scope of the problem.

EIP has meticulously tracked mercury pollution from power plants for years in their Dirty Kilowatts reports. But this year is an especially important time to focus on this unresolved pollution problem, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently on a court-ordered deadline won by Earthjustice and a broad coalition of environmental and public health groups to issue the first-ever health protections against emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants. The draft health protections are due March 16, 2011.

According to EIP’s report—“America’s Power Plant Mercury Polluters: The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty”—the 50 worst mercury polluters generated nearly half of the power plant industry’s total mercury emissions. These 50 dirty plants emitted 33,280 pounds of mercury—a shocking number when you consider it takes only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury to pollute a 20-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat.

The Environment America report—“Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury”—notes that, in addition to mercury’s detrimental impact on wildlife and aquatic ecosystems, children exposed to mercury in the womb or at a young age are at risk of impaired brain function, neurological problems, and reduced IQ. The report estimates that “more than 689,000 out of the 4.1 million babies born every year could be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution.”

Mercury pollution is a public health and environmental issue that must be addressed. The EPA’s upcoming health protections against the mercury emissions of power plants is a critically important and long-overdue step in that process. Though the utility industry and its congressional allies will fight hard against these health protections, Americans overwhelmingly support the EPA’s programs for clean air and water. We encourage everyone to speak out for strong limits on power plants’ emission of mercury and other toxic pollution and will keep you posted on how to make your voices and concerns heard.