EIP: Mercury Pollution Up at Most of the 50 Worst U.S. Coal-Fired Power Plants

Nov. 21, 2008
In the wake of a February 2008 appeals court decision striking down weak regulations proposed by EPA, a new report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) finds that the top 50 most-polluting power plants in the United States emitted 20 tons of the dangerous neurotoxin mercury into the nation's air in 2007.

While some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants are reporting reductions in such pollution since 2006, the majority of the worst 50 plants actually increased their mercury emissions through 2007, the most recent period for which data is available.

“When the original Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the electric utility industry persuaded Congress to not impose strict pollution controls on old power plants, because they would soon be replaced by newer state-of-the-art facilities. Yet despite the industry's promises, many of the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants continue to operate,” said EIP Senior Attorney Ilan Levin.

The report rates the power plants both in terms of sheer mercury pollution and mercury pollution adjusted per kilowatt hour. The 12 states with the most plants in the top 50 in terms of mercury pollution are:

  • Texas (7, including half of the 10 worst)
  • Pennsylvania (5)
  • Alabama (4, including the worst plant and also 2 of the 10 worst)
  • Georgia (4, including 1 of the 10 worst)
  • Ohio (3)
  • Indiana (3)
  • North Dakota (3)
  • Missouri (2, with 1 of the 5 worst)
  • Kansas (2)
  • North Carolina (2)
  • Wisconsin (2)
  • Arkansas (2)

Minnesota was unique in terms of having one of the 10 worst plants, but no second plant among the 50 worst.

Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide, according to EPA. Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly 6 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.

"Cleaning up our power plant mercury emissions is vital so that women and their children will not be exposed to unacceptable and dangerous levels of toxic mercury and to reduce mercury levels in our fish and waterways,” Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future.

Highlights of the EIP report include:

  • Of the top 10 power plant mercury emitters, all but one reported an increase as compared to 2006.
  • Southern Company's Miller plant, in Jefferson County, Ala., is ranked number one in the nation for 2007, reporting nearly a ton of mercury air pollution in 2007. This represents a nearly 14 percent increase over the plant's 2006 reported emissions.
  • Eight Southern Company plants in Georgia and Alabama are ranked among the top 50 power plant mercury emitters.
  • Texas power plants claim five out of 10 spots among the nation's highest mercury emitters.

“Pollution controls that dramatically reduce emissions are widely available, and already being used at many plants. But, until the public and policymakers hold the electric utility industry to its promised cleanup of the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants, Americans will continue to bear unnecessary health and environmental costs,” said Levin.

The EIP report outlines the ways in which mercury removal is achievable with existing technology. To read the full report, visit www.environmentalintegrity.org.
About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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