New Report Data: Colorado Keeping Ahead of EPA on Mercury Pollution

Environment Colorado

Denver, CO — A Colorado plan up for final approval in the state legislature will cut the state’s mercury emissions 10% according to data in the new Environment Colorado report Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury.  The state’s plan, to phase out several old coal-burning plants, is completed only months before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to propose a standard by March to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants nationwide.

“Four years ago, Coloradans were shocked to learn nearly a quarter of lakes and reservoirs tested by the state contain mercury- tainted fish,” said Dana Hoffman, Energy Associate for Environment Colorado. “Now, Colorado is one of handful of states with our own limits on mercury emissions from new plants and aggressively flipping the switch on coal plants that are putting our kids and our environment at risk.”

Coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution in Colorado and throughout the nation, emit the neurotoxin into our air.  The mercury then falls into our waterways from rain or snow, where it builds up in fish then the animals—and people—that consume the fish.  Even very small amounts of mercury can have significant impacts, as studies suggest that a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate an entire 20 acre lake.

“I’ve done research and volunteer work in Colorado state parks for over 30 years, and I’ve seen the devastating impacts burning fossil fuels byproducts like mercury can have on our native ecosystems.”  Said Vickie Trammel, a biologist and retired professor at Arapahoe Community College, “We need to be taking aggressive steps to clean up mercury and keep it out of our beautiful places.” 

The report found that:

  • Mercury pollution is a widespread health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her unborn child at risk for the health effects of mercury pollution, including learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs, should she become pregnant. This means that more than 689,000 of the 4.1 million babies born every year could be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution.
  • Mercury pollution harms our environment.  Fish and animals that consume fish suffer from reproductive failure and mortality as a result of mercury pollution. In 2009, 23 Colorado reservoirs had fish with elevated mercury levels — including favorite fishing spots like Carter Lake in Larimer County and Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins. More U.S. waters are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem.

In total, coal-fired power plants emitted 134, 365 pounds of mercury in 2009.  New EPA rules could cut mercury pollution by more than 90% to come in line with laws to protect our health and our environment. Colorado is among 19 states that already have standards for emissions of the pollutants; the state requires new coal units the use the best available control technologies to capture at least 90% of emissions.  

Currently operating power plants in Colorado emitted 1,297 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009.  Colorado’s newly approved plan under the Clean Air—Clean Jobs law will cut that those emissions by an additional nearly 10%.

“Because mercury pollution travels beyond state boundaries,” said Hoffman, “the next big step is a national standard to ensure our children and wildlife are protected from the impacts of mercury pollution.”

The EPA is set to propose the standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in March, and finalize the standard by November.  Environment Colorado is calling on the EPA to cut mercury pollution by more than 90%. 

Industry lobbyists and some lawmakers have been working to prevent EPA action, by threatening to introduce legislation to block this and other rules to limit dangerous air pollution.