New Report: Mercury Pollution from Power Plants a Major Threat to Americans’ Health, Environment

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Power plants in America emitted 134, 365 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009, according to the new Environment America report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury. The report found that power plants in just four states—Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia—are responsible for over 35 percent of all mercury pollution from power plants in the United States. The report comes as 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.

“Powering our homes should not poison our kids,” said Shelley Vinyard, Toxics Advocate for Environment America. “Mercury pollution from power plants puts our kids and our environment at risk, and we need the Environmental Protection Agency to force these facilities to clean up.”

"Mercury from power plants limits our children's potential to succeed. Power plants should reduce mercury emissions as much as is humanly possible to protect our children's health and their future," said Jerome A. Paulson, MD, environmental health expert.

Coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, emit mercury 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 -- studies suggest that a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate an entire 20 acre lake.

Environment America’s research 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 child at risk from 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. More U.S. waters are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem. The EPA has found that large parts of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers are contaminated by mercury which poisons fish in those waterways.
  • Power plants in the United States are responsible for 134,365 pounds of mercury spewed into our air and water in 2009. The top 25 worst polluters, out of 451 power plants, were responsible for nearly 28 percent of all mercury pollution from power plants.

The report comes as the EPA is set to propose a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in March, with a plan to finalize the standard by November.  

Environment America was joined by the American Nurses Association in calling on the EPA to issue a strong standard that will significantly reduce these harmful pollutants from power plants, and specifically cut mercury pollution by more than 90%. 

“If we can reduce mercury pollution by more than 90%, that will mean healthier Americans and a safer future,” said Jose Cardenas, MD-MPH, of the American Nurses Association.

Unfortunately, while the EPA is undertaking this rule making, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to prevent the EPA from doing its job, by threatening to introduce legislation to block this and other rules from limiting dangerous air pollution. 

“America’s parents do everything they can to protect their children’s health; now it’s time for the EPA to do its part,” Vinyard Said. “Congress should stand up for America’s families and support the efforts of the EPA.”