Report: Nearby coal-fired plants polluting
By Anna Johnson
Published GazetteXtra September 20, 2005
CHICAGO - Lake Michigan receives more mercury pollution
than any of the four other Great Lakes, according to a
draft of a government report released Monday.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's
study, which was released by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., also
suggested that a majority of the mercury pollution comes
from coal-fired electric power plants in the states that
surround Lake Michigan.
Calling Chicago the mercury "hot spot," Kirk
said the report, which he requested from NOAA in June,
proves the federal government must compel power plants
to reduce their mercury emissions sooner than current
"We should not wait as long as the administration
would like," Kirk said. "We have to move more
The Environmental Protection Agency in March imposed
requirements for coal-fired power plants to reduce their
mercury emissions about 35 percent by 2010 and 70 percent
by 2018. The mercury-emission regulations for coal-fired
plants, the first in U.S. history, also would allow plants
to delay installing pollution controls by purchasing credits
from cleaner plants.
Mercury is a toxic metal that settles in waterways and
accumulates in fish. It poses a variety of health risks,
with the greatest risk of nerve damage to pregnant women,
women of childbearing ages and young children.
Coal-fired electrical plants account for 16 of the top
25 sources of Lake Michigan mercury pollution, according
to 1999 NOAA data, the most current emission information
available. While a majority of Lake Michigan mercury polluters
are in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, some
of the pollution originates in Texas, Nevada and Kentucky,
the draft study said.
The NOAA study is being reviewed by the EPA, which must
sign off on it before it is officially released, said
Kirk's spokesman Matt Towson.
EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Monday the agency was
continuing to work with NOAA on the study.
Environmental groups also said Monday during an ad hoc
Congressional hearing at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium that
the NOAA study shows that mercury emission reductions
must be enforced sooner than the EPA rule dictates.
"Mercury pollution control technology is known,
doable and not that expensive," said Howard Lerner,
executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy
Center. "The only thing standing in the way is owners
of coal plants."
"When it comes to mercury, it's too little, too
long," he said.
The power industry and Bush administration have resisted
more dramatic mercury emission reductions, saying that
implementing technology would do little to help public
EPA officials also have had said mercury-contaminated
fish from abroad poses the biggest threat.
Midwest Generation Inc. spokesman Charley Parnell said
two of the Chicago-based company's six coal-burning power
plants in Illinois will conduct tests next year to determine
if technology effectively reduces mercury emissions.
"We acknowledge that the first-ever mercury regulation
needed to be passed and we're supportive," Parnell
said. "But U.S. coal-fire plants account for less
than 1 percent of mercury emissions. This is truly a global