North Carolina’s power plants emit more mercury pollution than power plants in 42 other states, according to a study released by an environmental advocacy group.
The report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury, by Environment North Carolina, found that power plants in the state emitted 4,702 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009.
The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to propose by March a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants.
“Powering our homes should not poison North Carolina’s kids,” Locky Stewart, federal field associate for Environment North Carolina, said in the report. “Mercury pollution from power plants puts our kids and our environment at risk, and we need the Environmental Protection Agency to force these facilities to clean up.”
Out of the 16 coal-fired power plants in the state, Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman ranks third for the amount of mercury it releases. Allen Steam Station in Belmont is tenth and the Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake is 12th. Charlotte-based Duke Energy owns the three plants. The company has said it plans to close the Riverbend Steam Station by 2015.
Carolina Power and Light Company emitted 1,079 pounds of mercury in 2009, ranking it first among North Carolina plants. In total, United States coal-fired power plants emitted 134,365 pounds of mercury in 2009.
Coal-fired power plants, the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S., emit mercury into the air. The mercury then falls into waterways from rain or snow, where it builds up in fish and then the animals – and people – that consume the fish.
Testing by the Environment Protection Agency has found concentrations of mercury in fish in Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman, but the level is not high enough to be considered harmful to humans.
Fish and animals that consume fish can suffer from reproductive failure and death as a result of mercury pollution, according to the Environment North Carolina report.
The state does not have any consumption advisories for Mountain Island Lake or Lake Norman because of mercury, but state officials advise women between 15 and 44 years old, pregnant women, nursing women, and children younger than 15 should only eat up to two meals a week containing fish.
Dr. David Hinton of the Duke Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health program and N.C. Rep. Verla Insko joined Environment North Carolina in releasing the report.
“Mercury in water is converted to the most toxic form, and it then enters aquatic organisms, passing from microscopic forms to large fish that are food for humans” Hinton said. “Mercury crosses the placenta, enters the unborn child and can cause neurological damage, particularly in areas of the brain associated with hearing, sight and coordinated muscular movement. We should restrict the amount of mercury entering North Carolina waters, and we can do this by improved removal of mercury in coal-fired power plants of our state.”
States emitting the most mercury pollution
Rank State Pounds*
1 Texas 16,350
2 Pennsylvania 15,550
3 Ohio 9,518
4 West Virginia 6,795
5 Indiana 6,046
6 Kentucky 5,930
7 Illinois 4,973
8 North Carolina 4,702
9 Alabama 4,324
10 Michigan 4,012
*Pounds of mercury pollution
produced in 2009
– Source: Environment North Carolina