Mercury limits proposed
Coal-fired hydro plants targeted by ministers
By George Mathewson
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
"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,"
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
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
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."