Today the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new Mercury and Air Toxics rule that will help clean up mercury pollution from our nation’s power plants. A new Environmental Defense Fund report shows that Texas citizens will especially benefit from this rule with seven of the nation’s top 25 mercury-emitting coal plants here in our state, and four of those among the top 10 (see map).
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic mercury air emissions in the U.S. and Texas coal plants have lagged far behind other states in reducing emissions. Top Texas coal plant emissions in 2009 by pounds of mercury released include the following (among the nation’s top 25 emitters):
- Martin Lake 1,566 lbs.
- Big Brown 1,362 lbs.
- Limestone 1,077 lbs.
- Monticello 1,063 lbs.
- W A Parish 845 lbs.
- Sandow (No. 4) 809 lbs.
- Pirkey 791 lbs.
Such figures should concern us all given the serious human health impacts. While we have yet to learn all of the implications from harmful exposures to mercury, we do know that some of these effects are most severe in infants and young children, and include brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and impaired vision and hearing.
EPA’s air toxics rule may prove to be the best defense that Texas citizens have in the face of the devastating consequences of health effects resulting from mercury exposure.
Mercury pollution contaminates our land and waters
In a previous blog post I mentioned how nearly all mercury exposure comes from eating fish or shellfish and that most mercury emissions come from coal-fired power plants. After being released into the atmosphere, mercury eventually falls back to the earth depositing into soil or bodies or water, where it’s converted to an even more toxic methyl mercury. Small organisms ingest this methyl mercury when they’re feeding, and likewise, animals higher in the food chain eat the smaller ones, until finally people ingest it from eating those fish or animals.
How do we avoid eating mercury-contaminated fish? Many states issue advisories when high levels of mercury are found in their lakes and other bodies of water. However, comparatively, Texas lags far behind other states in setting a threshold value for mercury contamination in fish. For example, 28 states use a 300 ug/g value or lower to issue fish consumption advisories; 37 states use a value less than 700ug/g; and Texas uses 700ug/g.
This map demonstrates the water bodies that would have consumption advisories for bass if Texas followed EPA’s guidelines for setting fish consumption advisories at 300 ug/g instead of the less protective 700 ug/g that the state currently has in place.
A large amount of toxic mercury air pollution in America is caused by a small number of coal plants that have not installed readily available pollution controls that others are already using.
There are widely available, cost-effective, and tested technology solutions to reduce mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90%. A pollution control technology called Activated Carbon Injection, for example, has been successfully deployed by many coal-fired power plants across the country.
The US. Government Accountability Office conducted an extensive review of mercury control technologies at coal-fired power plants and found: “Commercial deployments and 50 DOE and industry tests of sorbent injection systems have achieved, on average, 90 percent reductions in mercury emissions.”
The new EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Rule will establish a much-needed national policy to reduce mercury emissions from power plants. Such a policy will protect the health of every American, but as you’ve read here, it will especially benefit those of us in Texas. Make sure your voice is heard. Find out how you can help make sure there are fewer toxics like mercury in your air.