New Report: Wisconsin Remains at risk from Mercury Pollution

Wisconsin Environment

Madison, Wisconsin – The Columbia Energy Center power plant in Pardeeville emits 627 pounds of mercury every year [SEE Chart 1 in attached document]—the most in Wisconsin—according to the new Wisconsin Environment report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury. The report found that power plants in Wisconsin emitted 2,720 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009 [SEE Chart 1]. The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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 Wisconsin’s kids,” said Scott Thompson, Clean Energy Associate for Wisconsin Environment. “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.”

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, as studies suggest that a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate an entire 20-acre lake.

Our 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 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. More U.S. waters are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem. The EPA found that Lake Michigan, Lake Monona and Lake Winnebago are among the many waterways damaged by mercury pollution, contaminating fish that live in them.

Power plants in Wisconsin emitted 2,720 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009 [SEE Chart 1], ranking Wisconsin power plants 19th nationally for highest mercury emissions from power plants. The Columbia Energy Center power plant emitted 627 pounds of mercury in 2009, ranking it first among Wisconsin’s plants. In total, coal-fired power plants emitted 138,259 pounds of mercury in 2009. Power plants in the top 10 worst polluting states were responsible for 56 percent of all mercury emitted from power plants that year.

Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson, Gina Dennick-Champion with the Wisconsin Nurses Association and Krista Werchowski, a literary specialist and mother of two, joined Wisconsin Environment in releasing today’s report.

“We all know that mercury exposure can have dire consequences on our health,” said Sen. Larson. “Therefore it is not unreasonable to request power plants operating in Wisconsin to employ practices aimed at safeguarding the health of our families.”

“As a mother of two, with one on the way, I have always taken every precaution to create a safe and healthy environment for my children.” said Werchowski. “Yet for everything I do to protect the development of my children, I can’t keep mercury from getting into their environment. The EPA has to do that.”

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, and finalize the standard by November. Wisconsin Environment is 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 percent. But 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 to limit dangerous air pollution.

“Wisconsin’s parents do everything they can to protect their children’s health; now it’s time for the EPA to do its part,” said Thompson. “Senator Kohl should stand up for Wisconsin’s families and support the EPA.”

Wisconsin Environment is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental group working for clean air, clean water and open space.