Each year tons of mercury is being dumped into our environment.
Read what the EPA has to say
Mercury exists in various forms, and people are exposed to each in different ways. The most common way people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury. Other exposures may result from using or breaking products containing mercury.
Outbreaks of methylmercury poisoning have made it clear that adults, children, and developing fetuses are at risk from dietary exposure to methylmercury. During these poisoning outbreaks some mothers with no symptoms of nervous system damage gave birth to infants with severe disabilities and it became clear that the developing nervous system of the fetus may be more vulnerable to methylmercury than is the adult nervous system. Mothers who are exposed to methylmercury and breast-feed their babies may also expose their infant children through their milk.
In 2004 EPA and FDA issued the first-ever joint consumer advice about methylmercury in fish and shellfish. This advice was for women who might become pregnant; women who are pregnant; nursing mothers; and young children. The advisory provides three recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish to ensure that women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of methylmercury. EPA also hosts a web-based compilation of fish advisories issued by States, tribes, territories and local governments. Fish Consumption Advisories
Reference Dose (RfD): An estimate (with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude) of a daily oral exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime. It can be derived from a NOAEL, LOAEL, or benchmark dose, with uncertainty factors generally applied to reflect limitations of the data used. Generally used in EPA's noncancer health assessments.
No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level (NOAEL): The highest exposure level at which there are no biologically significant increases in the frequency or severity of adverse effect between the exposed population and its appropriate control; some effects may be produced at this level, but they are not considered adverse or precursors of adverse effects.
Lowest-Observed-Adverse- Effect Level (LOAEL): The lowest exposure level at which there are biologically significant increases in frequency or severity of adverse effects between the exposed population and its appropriate control group.
Recent human biological monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1999 and 2000 (PDF) shows that most people have blood mercury levels below a level (5.8 µg/L of whole blood) associated with possible health effects. Consumption of fish with higher methylmercury levels can lead to elevated levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children and may harm their developing nervous system. These disabilities have been documented in ability to use language, to process information, and in visual/motor integration. U.S. EPA's 2001 Reference Dose (RfD) for methylmercury was calculated to protect the developing nervous system. Currently, U.S. EPA uses a RfD of 0.1 µg/kg body weight/day as an exposure without recognized adverse effects. A description of EPA’s Reference Dose for methylmercury may be found at http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0073.htm.
In U.S. EPA’s Mercury Study Report to Congress (1997) EPA estimated that 7% of women of childbearing age would have blood mercury concentrations greater than those equivalent to the RfD. The estimate of 7% of women of childbearing age above the RfD was based on patterns of fish and shellfish consumption and methylmercury concentrations present in fish and shellfish. Blood mercury analyses in the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2000 NHANES) for 16-to-49 year old women showed that approximately 8% of women in the survey had blood mercury concentrations greater than 5.8 ug/L (which is a blood mercury level equivalent to the current RfD). Based on this prevalence for the overall U.S. population of women of reproductive age and the number of U.S. births each year, it is estimated that more than 300,000 newborns each year may have increased risk of learning disabilities associated with in utero exposure to methylmercury. More recent data from the CDC support this general finding.
Nearly all methylmercury exposures in the U.S. occur through eating fish and shellfish. Microscopic organisms convert inorganic mercury into methylmercury, which accumulates up the food chain in fish, fish-eating animals, and people.
This process is explained below...
Mercury is emitted to the air by human activities, such as manufacturing or burning coal for fuel, and from natural sources, such as volcanoes.
Typically, mercury is released into the atmosphere in one of three forms:
What happens to mercury after it is emitted depends on several factors:
Depending on these factors, atmospheric mercury can be transported over a range of distances before it is deposited, potentially resulting in deposition on local, regional, continental and/or global scales.
Mercury that remains in the air for prolonged periods of time and travels across continents is said to be in the "global cycle."
Recent emissions estimates of annual global mercury emissions from all
sources, natural and anthropogenic (human-generated), which are highly
uncertain, are about 4800-8300 tons per year.
U.S. anthropogenic mercury emissions are estimated to account for roughly 3 percent of the total global emissions, and the U.S. power sector is estimated to account for about 1 percent the total global emissions. EPA has estimated that about one third of U.S. emissions are deposited within the contiguous U.S. and the remainder enters the global cycle.
Current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the U.S. comes from U.S. sources, although deposition varies by geographic location. For example, compared to the country as a whole, U.S. sources represent a greater fraction of the total deposition in parts of the Northeast because of the direction of the prevailing winds.
When mercury falls in rain or snow, it may flow into bodies of water like lakes and streams. When it falls out of the air as dry deposition, it may eventually be washed into those bodies by rain. Bacteria in soils and sediments convert mercury to methylmercury. In this form, it is taken up by tiny aquatic plants and animals. Fish that eat these organisms build up methylmercury in their bodies. As ever-bigger fish eat smaller ones, the methylmercury is concentrated further up the food chain. This process is called "bioaccumulation".
Methylmercury concentrations in fish depend on many factors, including mercury, the concentration in water, water pH and temperature, the amount of dissolved solids and organic matter in the water, and what organisms live in the water. Methylmercury concentrations in fish may also be affected by the presence of sulfur and other chemicals in the water. Because of these variables, and because food webs are very complex, bioaccumulation is hard to predict and can vary from one water body to another.
However, in a given water body, the highest concentrations of methylmercury are generally found in large fish that eat other fish. The concentrations of methylmercury in large fish can be over a million-fold larger than in the surrounding water. EPA discussions of estimates bioaccumulation can be found in Chapter 6 and Appendix A of the Water Quality Criterion for the Protection of Human Health: Methylmercury.
When elemental mercury is spilled or a device containing mercury breaks, the exposed elemental mercury can evaporate and become an invisible, odorless toxic vapor. This is especially true in warm or poorly-ventilated rooms or spaces. Sources of potential exposure to elemental mercury are described below.
Dental amalgam - Mercury is used in dentistry in dental amalgam.
Dental amalgam is a direct filling material used in restoring teeth. It is made
up of approximately 40-50% mercury, 25% silver and 25-35% a mixture of copper,
zinc and tin. Amalgam use is declining because the incidence of dental decay is
decreasing and because improved substitute materials are now available for
Dental amalgams are considered medical devices and are regulated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since the 1990s, FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government agencies have reviewed the scientific literature looking for links between dental amalgams and health problems. CDC reported in 2001 that there is little evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with dental amalgam is compromised, nor that removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health. In 2002, FDA published a proposed rule to classify dental amalgam as a class II medical device with special controls. On April 28, 2008, FDA reopened the comment period for that proposed rule. After reviewing all comments, FDA intends to issue a final rule classifying dental amalgam.
Ritual Use of Mercury - Persons who use metallic mercury in ethnic folk medicine and for religious practices may be at risk of exposure to mercury. Metallic mercury is sold under the name "azogue"in stores (sometimes called botanicas), which specialize in religious items used in Esperitismo (a spiritual belief system native to Puerto Rico), Santeria (a Cuban-based religion that venerates both African deities and Catholic saints), and voodoo. The use of azogue in religious practices is recommended in some Hispanic communities by family members, spiritualists, card readers, and santeros. Typically, azogue is carried on one's person in a sealed pouch prepared by a spiritual leader or sprinkled in the home or automobile.
Inorganic mercury compounds take the form of mercury salts. They are
generally white powders or crystals, with the exception of mercuric sulfide
(cinnabar) which is red. Inorganic compounds and organic compounds (such as
phenylmercury acetate and ethylmercury), have been commonly used as fungicides,
antiseptics or disinfectants. They have also been used in a variety of products.
Most of these uses have been discontinued, but small amounts of these compounds
can still be found as preservatives in some medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration maintains a
list of medicines that contain mercury.
Excessive exposure to inorganic and organic mercury compounds can result from misuse or overuse of mercury-containing products, especially outdated products containing more mercury. Exposure to mercury compounds is primarily through ingestion, but can occur through other pathways. Ingested organic mercury compounds are more readily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract than are inorganic compounds.
With CFL bulbs now being pushed on Americans for household use, there are many facts that people are unaware of. Many do not know that they contain mercury and that improper cleanup of a broken CFL bulb can cause serious health problems. Another issue is, improper disposal of these bulbs causes more mercury to be released into our environment.
by Elizabeth Shogren
February 15, 2007
The Environmental Protection Agency and some large business, including Wal-Mart, are aggressively promoting the sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs as a way to save energy and fight global warming. They want Americans to buy many millions of them over the coming years.
But the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin, and the companies and federal government haven't come up with effective ways to get Americans to recycle them.
"The problem with the bulbs is that they'll break before they get to the
landfill. They'll break in containers, or they'll break in a dumpster or they'll
break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when
that happens," says John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste
Association of North America, the trade group for the people who handle trash
Skinner says when bulbs break near homes, they can contaminate the soil.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and it's especially dangerous for children and fetuses. Most exposure to mercury comes from eating fish contaminated with mercury. Some states, cities and counties have outlawed putting CFL bulbs in the trash, but in most states the practice is legal.
Pete Keller works for Eco Lights Northwest, the only company in Washington state that recycles fluorescent lamps. He says it is illegal to put the bulbs in the trash in some counties in Washington, but most people still throw them out.
"I think most people do want to recycle, but if it's not made easy, it doesn't happen," Keller says. "And they're small enough to fit in a trash can. So by nature, I think most people are not recyclers. So if it's small enough to fit in a trash can, that's where it ends up."
Experts agree that it's not easy for most people to recycle these bulbs. Even cities that have curbside recycling won't take the bulbs. So people have to take them to a hazardous-waste collection day or a special facility.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency program concedes that not enough has been done to urge people to recycle CFL bulbs and make it easier for them to do so.
"I share your frustration that there isn't a national infrastructure for the proper recycling of this product," says Wendy Reed, who manages EPA's Energy Star program. That programs gives the compact bulbs its "energy star" seal of approval.
She says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That's because they use less electricity — and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air.
"The compact fluorescent light bulb is a product people can use to positively influence the environment to... prevent mercury emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it's something that we can do now — and it's extremely important that we do do it," Reed says. "And the positive message is, if you recycle them, if you dispose of them properly, then they're doing a world of good."
Reed says the agency has been urging stores that sell the bulbs to help recycle them. "EPA is actively engaged with trying to find a solution that works for these retailers around recycling the product, because it's really, really important," Reed says.
But so far, she says the biggest sellers of the bulbs haven't stepped up to
the plate. "The only retailer that I know of that is recycling is IKEA,"
she says, referring to the Swedish-owned furniture chain store.
Reed says the EPA has been prodding other retailers, such as Wal-Mart, to do more.
"We are working with Wal-Mart on it, we are making some progress. But no
commitments have been made on the part of Wal-Mart," she says. Wal-Mart
didn't respond to requests for a comment on the issue.
EPA also has asked retailers to sell the lower mercury compact bulbs that some manufacturers are making. Engineers say you can't cut mercury out completely.
Some other big companies have started paying attention to the recycling problem. General Electric has been making compact fluorescents for 20 years. Now the company admits that the little bit of mercury in each bulbs could become a real problem if sales balloon as expected. "Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," says Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric. In fact, Jones said he was having his first talks with congressional staffers on Thursday.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain a minuscule amount of mercury, and you can't safely ignore potential contact with it
By John Matson | April 10, 2008 | 21
MERCURY WARNING: Compact fluorescent lightbulbs contain very small amounts of mercury and care must be taken in disposing of them or when they break. Image: ©GARY ALVIS/ISTOCKPHTO
Lightbulbs break all the time. So why would a single broken bulb in a Maine household trigger the state's Department of Environmental Protection to refer the homeowner to a decontaminator?
The answer lies in the type of bulb that broke—a compact fluorescent light bulb—and what was inside that bulb. Compact fluorescents, like their tubular fluorescent precursors, contain a small amount of mercury—typically around five milligrams. Mercury is essential to a fluorescent bulb's ability to emit light; no other element has proved as efficient.
As effective as it is at enabling white light, however, mercury—sometimes called quicksilver—is also highly toxic. It is especially harmful to the brains of both fetuses and children. That's why officials have curtailed or banned its use in applications from thermometers to automotive and thermostat switches. (A single thermostat switch, still common in many homes, may contain 3,000 milligrams (0.1 ounce) of mercury, or as much as 600 compact fluorescents.)
The problem comes when a bulb breaks. Mercury escapes as vapor that can be inhaled and as a fine powder that can settle into carpet and other textiles. At least one case of mercury poisoning has been linked to fluorescents: A 1987 article in Pediatrics describes a 23-month-old who suffered weight loss and severe rashes after a carton of eight-foot (2.4-meter) tubular bulbs broke in a play area.
State and federal government agencies say that breakages, though deserving of caution, can usually be cleaned up inexpensively with household goods. (In the Maine case, the state acknowledges providing the referral but insists the homeowner was informed that such a step was unnecessary.)
Jim Berlow, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Waste Minimization and Management Division, recommends starting by opening the windows and stepping outside. "Any problems at all frequently are handled for the most part by quickly ventilating the room," he says. "Get all the people and pets out of the room for 15 minutes and let the room air out. If you have a central heating system or an HVAC [heating, ventilating and air-conditioning] system, you don't want it sucking the fumes around, so shut that down."
The important thing is not to touch the heavy metal. After airing out the room, the larger pieces of the bulb should be scooped off hard surfaces with stiff paper or cardboard or picked up off carpeted surfaces with gloves to avoid contact. Use sticky tape or duct tape to pick up smaller fragments; then, on hard surfaces, wipe down the area with a damp paper towel or a wet wipe. All materials should be placed in a sealable plastic bag or, even better, in a glass jar with a metal lid.
"If it gets in the jar, that's pretty good containment," Berlow states. "We've found that the plastic bags actually don't contain any mercury fumes, so absolutely, if you've got the plastic bag, get it outside when you're done." Vacuums or brooms should generally be avoided, as they can spread mercury to other parts of the house.
Intact bulbs can be a headache to dispose of, too. In many locales it is illegal to throw fluorescents out with regular garbage, but the closest recycling or take-back facility may be miles away. (And, given the number of bottles and cans that end up in landfills despite the prevalence of curbside recycling programs, it seems likely that any barrier to recycling will make for relatively low reclamation rates; in 2004 the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers estimated a residential mercury bulb recycling rate of 2 percent.) Many municipal waste facilities and some vendors accept fluorescents; the EPA and Earth 911 maintain online directories of collection sites. Among major retailers of fluorescents, IKEA offers to take back compact fluorescent bulbs in its stores free of charge.
What to Do if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home. These tips also apply to other mercury-containing bulbs, including:
Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed from the residence. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described below.
This page presents only the most important steps to reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb.
Have people and pets leave the room.
Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.
Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
People often forget how mercury in our environment affects our wildlife. It
is not only poisoning us, but it is causing great harm to all animal species.
Poisoning Wildlife: The Reality of Mercury Pollution...
Tons of mercury waste is emitted each day into our air from coal fired and
fuel oil power plants. Sadly, North Carolina, home base for Moms Against
Mercury, has one of the worst air qualities in the country. We need to keep
working hard on stronger restrictions to reduce these toxic emissions from
polluting our state, our country, and most importantly, all of us.
By STEPHEN POWER
The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed requiring power plants using coal or fuel oil to reduce emissions of mercury and certain other hazardous pollutants by 91%, in a move that could accelerate the U.S. shift toward natural gas.
If adopted, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said, the standards would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths a year.
The EPA says the annual cost to meet the new regulation will be about $11 billion in 2016, and that it will increase consumers' electric bills on the order of three or four dollars a month.
The announcement comes as some Republicans have targeted the EPA for budget cuts, saying regulations like the one proposed on Wednesday go too far.
American Electic Power Co. and some other utilities have expressed concern they won't have time to bring their coal-fired plants into compliance on roughly half a dozen regulations expected to be proposed or adopted by the EPA over the next 20 months that target pollution.
That suggests they may ask Congress to intervene. "We do know many members of Congress are concerned about the economic impact of these rules, and more time will help mitigate the economic impact of making additional emission reductions," an AEP spokeswoman said.
The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which also opposes the rules, raised another concern in a statement Wednesday: That utilities' need to comply with these and similar rules would lead to a rush of demand for new construction and smoke-stack clean-up technology, resulting in higher costs or delays for some utilities.
The nation's coal-fired power plants are the largest unregulated industrial source of mercury emissions nationwide, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. They annually emit 48 tons of mercury, a toxic element that can cause neurological disorders in children, according to the GAO. The EPA declared more than a decade ago that mercury emissions from power plants pose "significant hazards to public health" and must be reduced.
Some industry analysts have predicted the rule could hasten a shift from coal, source of half of the country's electricity supply, to natural gas, which is cleaner burning and accounts for 23% of the nation's electricity.
A report last September from bank Credit Suisse said the anticipated mercury rules, along with separate, previously proposed regulations targeting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, could lead to the closing of 18% of the nation's coal-fired generation capacity.
EPA officials projected a much more modest impact. The agency said Wednesday it expected plants accounting for only 2% of the nation's coal-fired capacity would be retired by 2015 in response to the new rule.
Ms. Jackson said the rule's costs would be far outweighed by the
public-health benefits, which the EPA puts at between $59 billion and $140
billion in 2016, much of it from avoiding premature deaths. More than half of
all coal-fired power plants already meet at least some of the proposed
standards, she said.
The new standards appear likely to benefit companies that have invested in wind, solar power and nuclear energy. White House Chief of Staff William Daley met with some of those companies last week, including Constellation Energy Group Inc.
"We know from experience that constructing [pollution-control technology] can
be done in a reasonable time frame," Constellation said in a statement. Some
industry analysts predicted the regulation would also benefit firms that make
pollution-control equipment, including Babcock & Wilcox Co. and URS Corp.
Coal, natural gas and oil collectively account for about 70% of the U.S. electricity supply, according to the Energy Information Administration, while nuclear power generates 20% and hydropower 7%. The remainder is generated by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass sources.
Under Wednesday's proposal, power plants would be obligated to meet numerical emission limits for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants within three years. But the agency said facilities could get an additional year "if technology cannot otherwise be installed in time." The EPA is expected to make a final decision in November.
In a written statement, Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) took exception to the proposal. "EPA continues to propose and promulgate rules at a breakneck pace without a complete and accurate understanding of their impacts on consumers, jobs and small businesses," he said.
But Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, endorsed
the EPA's approach. "If you think it's expensive to put [pollution controls] on
a smokestack, you should see how much it costs to treat a child over a lifetime
for a preventable birth defect," she said.
Write to Stephen Power at email@example.com
Wednesday March 16th, 2011
Today EPA announced requirements to reduce toxic air emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants, which emit 50% of the mercury, 50% of the acid gases, and 25% of the heavy metals released into the air by industry in the U.S. today. This industry also emits dioxins and furans, which are linked to increased cancer risks. If finalized as proposed, EPA estimates the benefits of this rule will be 10 times the costs. EPA estimates that its proposed standards would avoid up to 17,000 premature deaths and up to 120,000 cases of aggregated asthma annually, and will create 9,000 utility jobs, and 31,000 short term construction jobs.
These air toxics cause a variety of human health and environmental impacts. For example, mercury, a potent neurotoxin, bioaccumulates in and contaminates fish, and, when such fish are consumed by pregnant or nursing women can cause neurological damage in utero or to the developing brain of the young child. Small children eating freshwater fish, tuna, or swordfish contaminated with mercury also are at risk for such damage, which can include serious behavioral and learning issues, and lags in hitting developmental milestones.
“Because Maine is at the end of the tailpipe for the nation’s air pollution, we bear the brunt of the toxic mercury and other hazardous pollutants from power plants,” said NRCM executive director Lisa Pohlmann. “We’re pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency has crafted rules that will help protect the health of the public from toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollution from power plants. This industry has escaped regulation of its toxic air emissions for far too long. We urge EPA to maintain these protective standards through its final rules.”
NRCM and 11 other health and environmental groups sued EPA in 2008 seeking a deadline for the issuance of this proposed rule. Under the agreement reached with EPA, the Agency will finalize this rule in November 2011 after taking public comment on its details. The groups’ successful action followed another lawsuit invalidating a Bush-era attempt to delist the power plant industry and establish a weak cap and trade rule for mercury only, which would have exacerbated mercury hotspots and allowed overall dangerously high levels of mercury pollution from power plants to persist. The program would not have taken full effect until well beyond 2020. The courts invalidated EPA’s attempt to avoid its legal responsibility to issue standards representing deep reductions in the air toxics emitted from this industry. Ann Weeks, attorney for the Clean Air Task Force, represented the groups.
The majority of states in the U.S., including Maine, have in place advisories that women and children, and in some cases all persons, avoid eating or limit their intake of freshwater fish, because of the contamination problem.
“Today’s ruling is a big win for the health of Maine people, our wildlife and the environment,” said Pohlmann. “It brings us one step closer to making the fish caught in our lakes and rivers safe for people and wildlife of all ages. Wildlife also is harmed by exposure to these toxics, suffering reproductive problems and neurological disorders from chronic exposure to contaminated sources of food and environments. EPA’s benefits analysis, as good as it is, does not include the benefits of toxics reductions to fish and wildlife, which we in Maine value very highly.”
Approximately 1,100 coal-fired units at more than 450 existing power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. Over 40 states have warned their citizens to avoid consuming various fish species due to mercury contamination, with over half of those mercury advisories applying to all waterbodies in the state. Power plants also emit tens of thousands of tons of other air toxics, including hydrogen chloride, arsenic and lead.
Raleigh, NC – North Carolina’s power plants emit more mercury pollution than
power plants in 42 other states, according to the new Environment North Carolina
report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury. The report found that
power plants in North Carolina emitted 4,702 pounds of mercury pollution in
2009. 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
“Powering our homes should not poison North Carolina’s kids,” said Locky Stewart, Federal Field Associate for Environment North Carolina. “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 the Neuse River and the Tar River are among the waterways contaminated by mercury pollution, contaminating fish that live in the waterways.
Power plants in North Carolina emitted 4,702 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009 ranking North Carolina power plants 8th nationally for highest mercury emissions Carolina Power and Light Company emitted 1,079 pounds of mercury in 2009, ranking it first among North Carolina plants. In total, United States coal-fired power plants emitted 134,365 pounds of mercury in 2009. Power plants in the top ten worst polluting states, including North Carolina, were responsible for 56 percent of all mercury emitted from power plants that year.
Dr. David Hinton of the Duke Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health
program and State Representative Verla Insko joined Environment North Carolina
in releasing today’s report.
“Mercury in water is converted to the most toxic form and it then enters aquatic organisms passing from microscopic forms to large fish that are food for humans” said Dr. Hinton. “Mercury crosses the placenta, enters the unborn child and can cause neurological damage particularly in areas of the brain associated with hearing, sight and coordinated muscular movement. We should restrict the amount of mercury entering North Carolina waters and we can do this by improved removal of mercury in coal-fired power plants of our state.”
“North Carolina took important first steps to curb mercury emissions when we passed the Clean Smokestack Act” said Representative Insko. “This new report shows that mercury is still a big problem for North Carolina's environment and public health. This is unacceptable for our state and for our children who are most seriously affected by mercury poisoning. It's critical that Senators Burr and Hagan stand up for North Carolina and support the EPA in its ability to protect the health of the Tar Heel state.”
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. Environment North Carolina is calling on the EPA to issue a strong standard that will significantly reduce these harmful pollutants from power plants and that will, specifically, cut mercury pollution by more than 90%. But while the EPA is undertaking this rulemaking, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to prevent the EPA from doing its job by threatening to introduce legislation to block this rule and others to limit dangerous air pollution.
“North Carolina’s parents do everything they can to protect their children’s health; now it’s time for the EPA to do its part,” said Locky Stewart. “Senator Hagan should stand up for North Carolina’s families and support the EPA.”
Environment North Carolina is a statewide, citizen based, environmental advocacy group working to protect the Outer-banks, preserve the Blue Ridge Mountains, and repower the state with clean renewable energy.
For more information about mercury and the environment, please visit the sites below and join the fight to clean up Amercia.