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Great Lakes Article:

Mercury taints Metro area
Abnormally high deposits endanger health, study says; coal-burning plants are blamed
By Marisa Schultz
The Detroit News
12/21/03

Metro Detroit is home to the nationís second-most-contaminated site for mercury, a substance that can poison fish and pose serious health risks to children and pregnant women and their fetuses, according to an environmental report.

Authors of the report, based on a scientific analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, said the 22-square-mile region in Metro Detroit receives abnormally high deposits from airborne mercury. Coal-burning power plants and other local sources are to blame for about 80 percent of the mercury pollution, according to New York-based Environmental Defense.

A 22-square-mile region near Fort Wayne, Ind., led the nation in mercury deposits.

The report comes as the Bush administration last week proposed the nationís first regulation of mercury from power plants, limits that environmentalists fear donít go far enough. Mercury deposits remain a prominent reason for advisories against eating fish from the Great Lakes.

Michigan has 20 major coal-burning power plants statewide, including six in southeast Michigan. Mercury emitted from plant stacks and other sources is carried by winds and eventually deposited in water and on land.

"If we are going to clean up the air and water in Michigan, we have to reduce the local sources of mercury pollution," said Michael Shore, the reportís author.

DTE Energy, which operates six Michigan coal-burning power plants, disagrees with the findings. Environmentalists often unfairly target power plants for pollution problems, said company spokesman Scott Simons.

"That report is based on a computer model, and not on real data," Simons said. "We found in our research that Michigan (mercury) isnít elevated compared to other states."

State records on mercury emissions are not exact, since facilities are not required by law to report them. So government agencies established mercury estimates.

One of the greatest concerns for health experts is when mercury is ingested by eating fish. Michigan and 42 other states have advisories to limit consumption of mercury-laden fish. Eight percent of women of childbearing age nationwide have mercury levels in their blood that are above safe standards, the report said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding task force meetings on ways to reduce emissions.

While mercury pollution from medical and municipal waste incinerators has dropped by 90 percent because of federal regulations, coal-burning power plants are not regulated and account for more than 40 percent of mercury emissions nationwide - the single-greatest source.

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