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Great Lakes Article:

Mercury limits proposed
Coal-fired hydro plants targeted by ministers
By George Mathewson
The Observer
06/16/03


Local environmentalists are hailing a proposal from Canadaís environment ministers that would order coal-fired power plants to cut mercury emissions by as much as 90 per cent.

The evidence is clear that coal-burning power plants are a major source of mercury entering the Great Lakes, said Ron Denning, a member of the Binational Public Advisory Council.

"The level of mercury in fish has ceased to drop off and thatís a concern when the government is considering lowering the acceptable level of mercury in fish," he said.

A notice outlining the proposed reduction was released earlier this week by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and posted on its Web site. The cuts would apply to all the countryís coal-fired plants, including the Lambton Generating Station near Courtright.

Brad Gray, a member of Sarnia Environmental Activists, said the plan is a step in the right direction. But he noted the initiative does nothing to reduce smog-producing sulphur dioxide emissions.

"Cutting mercury will have a positive impact but they are still going to have to do something about sulphur. Thatís not being addressed."

The proposal would require coal-fired stations to have plans to cut emissions in place by 2005. The actual reduction would not have to be achieved until 2010.

Ontario Power Generation, the largest coal-fired station operator, is studying the recommendations. Spokesman John Earl said it is too early to assess their possible financial impact.

Canadaís power utilities dumped approximately 2,450 kilograms of mercury into the environment in 1999, and the coal-fired stations are the countryís largest remaining human source of mercury emissions, according to the CCME.

The council of ministers, an umbrella group for Canadaís federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers, said it made the proposal for fear that mercury, a potent nervous-system poison, is reaching dangerous levels in fish exposed to power-station fallout.

"Human exposure to mercury -- primarily by eating contaminated fish -- may cause neurological and developmental damage. Low exposure to mercury may cause problems such as learning disabilities in children," the proposal said. Other common symptoms of low-level exposure are attention and language deficits, impaired memory and impaired vision.

The most vulnerable to mercury are women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children and those, such as natives and avid anglers, who depend on fish for a large part of their food supply.

The proposal wasnít accompanied by a cost estimate but Denning said converting coal plants to cleaner burning fuels would be "very" expensive.

"There is a price and we will pay for it. But the tendency is that people will tolerate that today."

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