New Report Ranks States and Power Plants for Mercury Pollution

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Environment Connecticut Research & Policy Center

Washington, D.C. – According to previously unreleased data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania rank first, second and third among states for the highest emissions of mercury pollution from power plants. A new report by Environment America ranks states and power plants nationwide according to their emissions of mercury, and outlines the public health threats of mercury pollution. 

Environment America’s report comes as EPA is set to finalize a historic standard next month to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Once implemented, EPA estimates the rule as proposed would save 17, 000 lives each year, but it has already come under preemptive Congressional attack. 

The new report, entitled “America’s Biggest Mercury Polluters”, uses previously unreleased 2010 emissions data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, which uses self-reported data from power plants and other facilities to track how much of a variety of toxic substances the facilities release into the air.  Key findings from the new report include:

  • Among all states nationwide, Texas ranked first in terms of overall airborne mercury pollution emitted by power plants in 2010. Ohio ranked second, followed by Pennsylvania. Together, power plants in these states emitted 19,309 pounds of mercury into the air.
  • Five companies alone – American Electric Power, Luminant Generation Co., Southern Co., Ameren Corp., and NRG Energy – were responsible for more than one-third of all power plant mercury emissions in 2010.

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children’s bodies are toxic dumping grounds,” said Lauren Randall, Federal Clean Air Associate for Environment America.  “The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect our children’s health from toxic mercury pollution, and we can’t let big polluters stand in the way.“

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, with two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution coming from these power plants.  Mercury emitted into the air falls with rain or snow into waterways, where it builds up in fish, and even a small drop of mercury is enough to make the fish in a 25-acre lake unsafe to eat.  Every state in the U.S. has issued an advisory against the consumption of species of fish that tend to have dangerous levels of mercury, and every square inch of the Great Lakes is under mercury advisory.  

Exposure to mercury can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ in growing children.  New EPA estimates show one in ten women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant.

Dr. Walter Tsou, former President of the American Public Health Association, and current President of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, joined Environment America in the release of their report. “As a public health physician, I welcome the new EPA mercury and air toxics rule,” said Tsou. “Mercury pollution that spews from power plants eventually pollutes our waterways and fish, and ends up poisoning people and significantly impairing the developing brains of children. We need to stop this at the source.”

This will be the first time in history that EPA limits toxic mercury pollution from power plants, and once fully implemented, the new standard as proposed would reduce overall power plant emissions of mercury by more than 90 percent. 

Each circle in this map represents a power plant that reported mercury pollution in 2010. The area of the circle is directly proportional to the amount of mercury the plant emitted.