Groups to rally for mercury-free Michigan
Of The Daily Oakland Press
"On Saturday, we're organizing a rally in Royal Oak with other environmental organizations throughout Michigan to show ... widespread support for mercury reduction and to highlight the need for regulation both from the Bush administration and the Granholm administration," said Kate Madigan, environmental advocate for the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan.
On Wednesday, PIRGIM and other members of the Clear the Air campaign released an analysis of mercury data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The EPA data was collected from 1999-2001 as part of its ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissues. The EPA looked at two samples of one predator fish species and one bottom dwelling species at 260 lakes nationwide.
"Nationwide, 100 percent contain mercury," said Madigan. "Here in Michigan, 56 percent exceed safe levels for women."
EPA sampled 11 lakes in Michigan including Oakland County's White Lake.
Rock bass taken from White Lake had an average mercury concentration of .18 parts per million; EPA's safe mercury limit is .13 ppm for women of child-bearing age and .07 ppm for children under 3, based on two fish meals per week.
The report also included data collected by the state from more than 100 lakes and rivers that found 86 percent of lake trout, 98 percent of largemouth bass, 95 percent of northern pike, 92 percent of smallmouth bass and 88 percent of walleye had mercury concentrations greater than safe for women.
Mercury exposure in the womb can cause learning and developmental disabilities.
PIRGIM and other members of the Clear the Air campaign say that power plants could reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2008 using available technology.
The Bush administration has proposed a 70 percent reduction by 2018.
Although the EPA agrees that mercury exposure is a serious public health issue, the study misuses EPA's exposure limits, said agency spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman.
She said the Bush administration had taken a big step forward by deciding to regulate the emissions, but added that the technology needed for plants to make the cuts had not yet proved itself.
PIRGIM is also calling on Granholm to make good on a campaign promise to reduce mercury emissions.
"Since the Bush administration proposal will not do enough to protect us from mercury, that's why we need Gov. Granholm to take the lead on mercury pollution in our state," said Madigan.
Bob McCann, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the state has a mercury utility work group consisting of both environmentalists and utility companies.
"It's certainly a goal that we agree with them on, that there are ways we can reduce mercury and through the mercury work group we are developing the ways that can work best for Michigan," he said.
Within the department, he said, there are doubts that the 90 percent reduction touted by environmentalists is possible.
"That's an ambitious plan but one we're not sure internally can be met," he said.
The mercury working group, he said, is finalizing a report and recommendations that should be out within a month to two months.
John Austerberry, a spokesman for DTE Energy, said closing down all U.S. coal-fired power plants would have a minimal effect on reducing mercury in the atmosphere.
"We do recognize that further controls on mercury are important," he said. "We are evaluating technology that would allow us to do that.
"We will comply with the rules using whatever appropriate technology would be. Right now, we're looking at scrubbers as the best available technology."
He called the proposed Bush reductions "feasible in the real world," unlike the reductions touted by environmental groups.
"There is no technology available that has been proven to remove mercury at that level on an operating power plant for an extended period of time," he said. "If they know of one, let us know, we'd love to know about that."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
303 Abbott Street, Suite 205
East Lansing, MI 48823