Ohio rainwater is high in mercury
By Sarah Hollander
Rain and snow samples from Cleveland contained some of
the highest mercury levels in the Midwest, according to
a report released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation
and other environmental groups.
Ten samples were collected on the roof of the Cleveland
Environmental Center at Lorain Avenue and Fulton Road
in Ohio City between Oct. 21 and Dec. 11 last year.
The results showed mercury levels eight times higher,
on average, than levels considered safe for the Great
Lakes by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We see this as a call to action and not another
piece of scary environmental news," said Zoe Lipman,
of the federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.
Rain picks up mercury from polluted air, most of which
comes from smokestacks at coal-fired power plants and
other industries. The government has proposed new rules
for reducing mercury emissions, and the EPA is in the
middle of public hearings.
Cleveland's rainwater is not dangerous to drink or touch,
Lipman said. It becomes dangerous when it accumulates
in fish eaten by humans. Harmful chemicals can build up
in the body and lead to serious health problems.
People generally think of rain as a cleansing agent,
Stuart Greenberg of Cleveland-based Environmental Health
"But, on the contrary, this rain is contaminating
our lakes and streams," he said.
Over the past two years, the National Wildlife Federation
has sampled rainwater in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota
and Wisconsin. Those states also exceeded the EPA's average
safe level, but Ohio's results were the worst.
Lipman said she's not surprised.
"Ohio is a heavy coal-burning state and surrounded
by heavy coal-burning states," she said.
The Bush administration favors setting a nationwide cap
on mercury emissions and letting industrial plants that
make big cuts sell credits to those that don't.
Environmental groups want stronger restrictions and oppose
the trading program, saying it would lead to mercury "hot
spots" in parts of the country.
Akron-based FirstEnergy, a main source of mercury emissions
in Ohio, supports the cap and trade program, spokeswoman
Ellen Raines said. The company hopes any new regulations
allow flexibility and a reasonable deadline, she said.
"Right now there aren't a whole lot of commercially
and economically viable technologies out there,"
The utility, in partnership with New Hampshire-based
Powerspan, is testing commercial-scale mercury control
technology at its R.E. Burger Plant in southern Ohio.