Groups Call for Stronger EPA Mercury Protections
Trenton– A new report from Environment New Jersey detailed that once again the largest source of mercury pollution in the state was from fossil-fueled power plants. Specifically, the report identified the largest mercury polluting power plants in the state, and tallied the total mercury pollution produced at 285 pounds, using EPA TRI data. The report urged EPA action to reduce mercury emissions nation-wide and called for Congressional support for new reductions.
The report found that power plants in New Jersey produced 285 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009. The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to propose a standard by March to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants.
“Mercury is a pollutant not to be messed with, and power plants are the biggest sources of mercury pollution in the state,” said Doug O’Malley, field director for Environment New Jersey. “Powering our homes should not be a public health risk – that’s why we need the EPA to force these facilities to clean up their act.”
New Jersey is significantly impacted by the emissions of Pennsylvania as well, which dwarf the output of New Jersey’s plants. Pennsylvania’s mercury pollution produced totaled 15,550 pounds, with 369 pounds coming from the Reliant Plant, right across the Delaware River. These emissions have a direct impact on New Jersey and the NJDEP is currently suing the plant operators to reduce its air pollutants.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S. Mercury has dire health consequences—mercury remains in the body for long periods of time, and as a neurotoxin has been linked to severe neurological disorders in unborn fetuses exposed to high levels of mercury in the mother’s womb, and developmental problems in young children. Mercury is also a carcinogen. As New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, these mercury emissions and the resulting health implications impact more people than in other states.
“The continued use of coal in New Jersey and other states puts mercury into our environment. Even reservoirs in the middle of the Highlands have fish advisories due to mercury,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need strong rules from the EPA that prevents this pollutant from entering our waterways.”
All of New Jersey’s waterways have mercury advisories, and the NJDEP report from over a year ago made recommendations for more comprehensive air monitoring and fish monitoring for mercury contamination. While the state needs to beef up its monitoring, the report focused on the root sources of mercury pollution – fossil fueled power plants in New Jersey and across the country – and the pending public health protections against mercury pollution from EPA.
Our research found that:
- Mercury pollution is a widespread health risk. The EPA estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her unborn child at risk for the health effects of mercury pollution, including learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs, should she become pregnant. This means that more than 689,000 of the 4.1 million babies born every year could be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution.
- Mercury pollution harms our environment. Fish and animals that consume fish suffer from reproductive failure and mortality as a result of mercury pollution. More U.S. waters are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem. The EPA found that over 253 watershed areas across the state are contaminated by mercury pollution, contaminating fish that live in the waterways. The watersheds range from some of the largest waterways in the state, including the Passaic, Hackensack and the Delaware to some of the most rural watersheds in New Jersey, like the Mullica and Cohansey Rivers. Shore waterways also are included.
- Power plants in New Jersey produced 285 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009. The Logan Generating power plant produced 89 pounds of mercury in 2009, ranking it first among New Jersey plants.
The report comes as the EPA is set to propose a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in March, and finalize the standard by November. Environment New Jersey and New Jersey Sierra Club are calling on the EPA to issue a strong standard that will significantly reduce these harmful pollutants from power plants, and specifically cut mercury pollution by more than 90%. But while the EPA is undertaking this rulemaking, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to prevent the EPA from doing its job, by threatening to introduce legislation to block this and other rules to limit dangerous air pollution.
“New Jersey’s parents do everything they can to protect their children’s health; now it’s time for the EPA to do its part,” O’Malley said. “The new Congress should stand up for New Jersey’s families and not vilify the EPA for doing its job to protect public health. We thank the strong efforts of Senators Menendez and Lautenberg, but other members of Congress need to know that mercury pollution is not to be messed with.”