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MERCURY: "Mercury called biggest emissions threat"



    [ENN - Environmental[News] etwork]   

    Mercury called biggest emissions threat
    Thursday, February 26, 1998

    Mercury is the most threatening toxic material produced by
    electric power plants, but there is no technology to effectively
    cut the emissions, federal regulators said Wednesday.

    In a report required by Congress, the EPA assessed dangers posed
    by utility emissions, and found mercury the leading risk. It was
    distantly followed by substances such as arsenic, beryllium,
    cadmium and dioxin.

    The report was to lead to a determination in April by the agency
    on how to proceed with regulating mercury emissions from
    utilities, but an EPA official said that may be delayed.

    "We're focusing on what additional research we need. There are
    more scientific needs before we make a determination," said the
    official, who asked not to be named. "What we do in April is kind
    of up in the air."

    The report followed a massive study on mercury that the EPA
    released in December that said power plants that burn coal
    accounted for 33 percent of human-generated mercury emissions in
    this country. It said people who regularly eat fish from
    mercury-tainted waters faced the greatest risk.

    Mercury -- a heavy metal that can cause neurological damage,
    particularly in fetuses -- is released into the environment mostly
    through combustion.

    Power plants that burn coal emit significant levels of mercury,
    while plants that use natural gas or other power sources do not.

    Environmentalists and health advocates have long pushed the EPA to
    clamp down on utilities' emissions.

    "EPA operates under the body-bag school of study. We're saying we
    should have health standards strong enough that show that there
    are no risks from living close to these plants," Brett Hulsey, of
    the Sierra Club, said.

    Hulsey said there are technologies for power plants to cut their
    mercury emissions "but they are more expensive than for
    incinerators" which the EPA regulates.

    A spokeswoman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents
    investor-owned utilities, said she could not yet comment on the
    report.

    But she said, "The rubber hits the road next month when the EPA
    determines which regulatory recommendations they make."

    EPA Administrator Carol Browner said in a statement that the
    agency has taken actions that will reduce mercury emissions by
    more than 50 percent by 2006.

    The agency said it imposed stricter standards on waste
    incinerators and expects more reductions in mercury emissions as a
    side-benefit of reducing emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases
    in its effort to fight global warming.

    But the report said more research may be needed on utility
    emissions, including more data on mercury content of various types
    of coal, the impact of reducing utility mercury emissions on
    bioaccumulation in fish, human health and environmental benefits
    from reducing utility mercury emissions, how other regulatory
    programs affect emissions and development of better control
    technologies.

     Copyright 1998, Reuters, All Rights Reserved