Mercury Pollution Rising
coal-fired plants are producing more mercury pollution than in 2006, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Twenty tons of mercury, a neurotoxin that affects brain development in fetuses, were released into our air by the these top fifty offenders. Although some of these plants have made strides towards producing cleaner-burning energy, most have increased their rates of mercury pollution.What Places Are at Risk From Mercury Pollution?
Texas has the dubious honor of having seven plants amongst the fifty dirtiest with five of those being in the top ten. Alabama has two plants in the top ten and four in the top fifty. It also has the greatest offender within its borders. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arkansas round out the other mercury-plagued states. Minnesota gets an honorable mention for having only one plant on the list but that plant being of the dirtiest ten.
The Grandaddy of All Mercury Polluters
The Southern Company's Miller plant, located in Alabama, is the biggest polluter overall, releasing nearly a ton of mercury into the air in 2007, 14% higher than their 2006 total. The Southern Company owns eight plants of the dirtiest fifty. Most of them are located in Alabama and Georgia.
The Effects of Coal-Fired Plants
Coal-fired plants account for 40% of all mercury emissions, the largest single source of mercury in our air. Low-level mercury poisoning is so prevalent, it is estimated that six percent of woman have enough mercury in their bodies to cause neurological damage to their unborn fetuses. Professor Cathy Desoto, PhD from the University of Northern Iowa said this about mercury poisoning:
"There are no experts who deny that mercury emissions are causing some damage to developing brains and causing drops in IQ – and there is no debate that there is a monetary cost associated with this loss. There is debate within the scientific community about the actual dollar amount associated with the IQ detriments. Furthermore, recent research has specifically documented the type of damage that low levels of mercury exposure cause to developing neurons. This damage occurs even at levels of mercury exposure that would be unlikely to cause harm in an adult; but at levels that a significant portion of the child-bearing population have circulating in their bodies."
How to Lower Mercury Emission
According to the EIP report, mercury removal at coal-fired plants is possible with current technologies. Activated carbon injection, a sort of mercury-hungry sponge placed in the smokestack, can reduce mercury pollution by ninety percent in some instances. Combined with other technologies—sulfur dioxide scrubbers, selective catalytic reduction, fabric filters—the mercury output can be even further reduced.