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