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E-M:/ Report documents mercury emissions from utilities

Enviro-Mich message from "MICHAEL W. MURRAY" <MURRAY@nwf.org>

March 19, 1998					

CONTACT: Sally Billups, MEC, 517-487-9539
	        Michael Murray, NWF, 734-769-3351	
                 Brian Imus, PIRGIM, 734-662-6597



Report Shows Michigan Ranks 9th Nationally in Mercury Releases from Power Plants

Ann Arbor, MI, March 19 -- The Federal Government is not adequately protecting people in Michigan and other states from the dangers of toxic mercury spewing from power plants, environmental groups charged today.

	The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM), and Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) jointly released with the Clean Air Network (CAN) a new report documenting the widespread contamination of fish in the U.S. and Great Lakes with the dangerous neurological poison mercury. The CAN report, Turn Up the Heat on Dirty Power: Why Power Plants Must Reduce Their Mercury Pollution, identifies coal- and oil-burning power plants, including those of Detroit Edison and Consumers Power, as the single largest source of mercury emissions to the nation*s air. The report notes that much of this mercury can wind up in the nations waterways, and recommends actions to control mercury from these power plants, which are currently exempted from toxic chemical regulations.

	The groups charged that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ignored the threat of emissions from power plants even though mercury can cause irreversible neurological damage and cerebral palsy, as well as more subtle neurological problems at lower exposure levels.

	People typically are exposed to mercury by eating freshwater fish and seafood, including canned tuna fish, according to Dr. Michael Murray, staff scientist with NWF*s Great Lakes office. *Mercury contamination poses a particular risk to pregnant women, fetuses and very young children,* Murray said. The EPA recently noted that up to 166,000 pregnant women in the U.S. in a given year are at risk due to exposure to elevated methylmercury levels in fish. 

	The report notes that 39 states, including Michigan, have issued advisories warning people to limit consumption of fish due to elevated mercury levels. The recent Michigan Fish Advisory booklet advises mothers who are breast-feeding, pregnant women, women who intend to have children and children under 15 to eat no more than one meal per month of several fish species from most inland lakes due to mercury contamination.  
	*Congress and the EPA have refused to protect the health of our children from mercury released by dirty power plants,* said Brian Imus of PIRGIM. He noted that Michigan ranks ninth in the nation in utility mercury emissions to the air. *It is unconscionable  to let the electric industry off the hook while putting children at risk from neurological problems. While the industry gets away scot-free, the public is having to worry about poisons in our food,* added Imus. 

	Other sources of mercury in the environment include trash incinerators, medical waste incinerators and certain manufacturing processes.

	The EPA has in recent years issued rules for other mercury sources, and will require up to a 90 percent reduction in mercury from them in future years. The report said that similar requirements should be required of the utility sector. *We have to level the playing field so that all industries are doing their fair share to reduce human-generated mercury emissions,* Murray added. The report charges that the utility sector was exempted from regulations on toxic air pollutant emissions in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments due to Congressional indecision and utility pressure. 

	*EPA has failed to control the biggest source of mercury, and the problem will get worse if nothing is done,* Imus said. He noted that power plant mercury emissions are projected to increase from 51 to 60 tons per year from 1994 to 2010, according to a recent EPA report on utility emissions.

	In addition to mercury and 66 other toxic chemicals, such as arsenic and cadmium, coal-fired power plants also emit pollutants that lead to ozone smog, fine particle haze, acid rain, and global warming. *Power plants should be looking at all the smokestack emissions, and take a comprehensive approach to cleaning up all these problems, including mercury,* said Sally Billups, a policy specialist with MEC.  

	EPA has been slow to require that Detroit Edison, Consumers Power and other power companies  adequately monitor and report their emissions of mercury. Starting next year, power companies will be required to report their emissions under the Toxics Release Inventory program. However, because of high reporting thresholds, many utilities will not be required to report emissions of mercury or other hazardous air pollutants, according to the report.

	Like other air pollutants, mercury emissions travel across state borders with prevailing winds.  *This isn*t merely a local problem,* said Imus. *Mercury pollution has serious consequences for downwind states. We need national action to address this health threat.*

	Imus said the best way to solve the power plant mercury problem is by reducing the use of coal.  *Fortunately there are abundant supplies of alternative fuels, including renewable sources of energy and natural gas,* Imus said.   

	*There is also a huge untapped potential for energy efficiency in Michigan,* noted Billups. *If the Michigan legislature is wise it will use the process of utility deregulation to stimulate these energy alternatives.* 

	Murray, Imus and Billups called on federal and state authorities to require reductions in power plant mercury emissions.  They also called for expanded monitoring of mercury-contaminated waters. 

	The National Wildlife Federation is the nation's largest member-supported conservation advocacy and education group. Since 1936, the Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition and united people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife, and the world we all share. 

	PIRGIM is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental and consumer watchdog group with 10,000 members across the state.

	The Michigan Environmental Council, founded in 1980, is a coalition of 48 environmental and public health organizations with 100,000 individual members.  For 17 years, MEC has provided a voice for the environment at the State Capitol. In addition to serving as a clearinghouse of environmental information, MEC develops public policy, educates elected officials and the general public, and provides leadership and issue training for member organizations.  

	The Clean Air Network is a nationwide alliance of clean air activists.


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