Indiana has worst mercury site
'Hot spot' ranking for area just north of Fort Wayne follows
report on emissions.
By Maureen Groppe and Jon Murray
WASHINGTON -- A 22-square-mile area north of Fort Wayne
is the most mercury-contaminated spot in the country,
according to a report from a national environmental group.
An Environmental Protection Agency study, used to determine
mercury "hot spots," did not identify the source
of the pollution. But Michael Shore, a senior policy analyst
with Environmental Defense, said power plants in northwest
Indiana and the Chicago area are probably behind much
of the mercury in Indiana's hot spot.
That finding comes less than a week after figures released
by the Indiana Public Interest Research Group, and based
on federal emissions data, showed Indiana's power plants
emit the fourth-largest amount of mercury pollution --
5,728 pounds in 2001 -- in the country.
The two environmental groups say the findings show Hoosiers
will be among those most affected if the Bush administration
does not require power plants to significantly reduce
The EPA is expected to propose by Monday new rules on
mercury emissions from plants.
The rules will require emissions to be slashed 70 percent
by 2018, EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said.
Mercury deposited by rainwater makes its way into rivers
and lakes, where it accumulates in fish and poses health
risks to people who eat them. Mercury can cause developmental
and brain damage in children and fetuses.
Indiana officials say the state's mercury problem needs
to be addressed. But solutions must take into account
available technology and how quickly new controls can
be implemented, said Tim Method, deputy commissioner of
the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
"Everybody is focused on addressing the mercury
problems we currently see in our water," Method said.
"Everybody agrees one of the best measures that can
be taken is to address mercury from coal-fired power plants."
In 2000, Indiana burned 70.6 million tons of coal, more
than any state except Texas.
Patrick Bennett, director of environmental affairs for
the Indiana Manufacturers Association, cautioned against
overreaction to the environmental groups' reports.
While people should take precautions such as limiting
fish consumption, Bennett said, mercury is a naturally
occurring risk that would be there even if reductions
in pollution were achieved.
"The mercury that is in the environment will still
be in the environment," he said.
If the federal government acts, it would be the first
time mercury emissions from power plants have been regulated,
the EPA's Bergman said.
"This is a significant first step to reduce mercury
emissions from power plants. In effect, we will be going
from zero regulations to a mandatory 70 percent cut,"
Environmental groups, however, say the proposed reductions
aren't fast enough or big enough. They also fear the EPA
will allow plants to cut emissions by buying and selling
pollution credits from each other. That means, for example,
that an Indiana power plant would not have to reduce its
mercury emissions -- and could even increase them -- if
it buys credits from plants elsewhere that have cut back.
Environmental Defense's report was based on EPA's mathematical
models of emissions data, weather patterns and topography
to find the biggest mercury "hot spots" -- or
estimated concentrations of contamination -- in each state.
Indiana's "hot spot" was the most contaminated
in the nation, according to the group.
Environmental Defense's report is landmark because it
shows a clear relationship between mercury deposits and
local polluters, said Andy Knott, the Hoosier Environmental
Council's air and energy policy director.
"This is very significant for Hoosiers," Knott
said. "If the Bush administration isn't going to
take (mercury) seriously, then Congress should step in,
or state governments should do something at the state
State Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, chairwoman of
the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, said she's
not surprised that Indiana ranks high on mercury emissions,
given the predominance of coal-fired power plants. But
the problem is best addressed with new regulations at
the national level, Gard said, so pollution that crosses
state lines is also dealt with.
"It certainly needs to be fast enough that we're
going to see the benefit of increased regulation,"
Gard said. "But . . . we need to balance the economic
The EPA plans to propose both the credit approach to
reducing mercury emissions and a requirement that plants
use the best available technology, according to Bergman.
After taking public comments, the EPA will make its final
decision in a year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported
in 1999 that one of 10 American women of childbearing
age had near-dangerous levels of mercury in her blood.
All Indiana lakes and streams are under a mercury advisory
recommending limited consumption of fish, especially by
children and women of child-bearing.
A spokesman for Cinergy, the largest provider of energy
in Indiana, said the health effects of mercury emissions
"There's a significant question when you look at
some of the longer-term studies as to what the overall
impact is from a health basis," said spokesman Steve