|A disturbing new report says that power plants haven't been cutting their mercury emissions, but are emitting more than ever before.|
The report used data provided by electric companies to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and compiled into the Toxics Release Inventory.
Mercury is a naturally-occurring element that's found in air, water and soil. It's emitted from coal-burning power plants, then through atmospheric deposition it gets into waterways.
Most humans come into contact with it by eating fish, and at high levels, mercury can harm the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system.
West Virginia has restricted the eating of fish from the state's rivers and streams because of high mercury levels.
Ilan Levin, a senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, a Texas-based non-profit that advocates for environmental law enforcement, says "We wanted so see how well power companies are cleaning up their mercury pollution."
"We've had about two decades of delayed litigation and lobbying efforts by the utility industry to not have to clean up their mercury air emissions," Levin said.
"And so we've heard a lot of promises over the years about making reductions and we wanted to see if the electric power industry was living up to their promises."
The report concludes that they aren't. Among the nation's fifty largest power plants, mercury emissions decreased by an average of 0.26 percent between 2007 and 2008.
More than half of the plants actually increased their emissions.
Three of the biggest polluters were in West Virginia.
American Electric Power's John Amos and Kammer/Mitchell plants made the list, as did Allegheny Energy's Fort Martin facility.
Emissions decreased at John Amos by 7.31 percent between 2007 and 2008, but increased by 31.19 percent at Fort Martin, and by 40.52 percent at Kammer/Mitchell.
AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry says her company's presence on the list is just by virtue of its size.
The companies say the list is slanted because it is based on volume. It shows that larger power plants, just because they burn more coal and generate more electricity will be higher on the list.
"That's true," says Levin, "But ultimately that doesn't make a difference to those who are affected by mercury in their streams and the fish they eat."
"Some power plants are upgrading with control technologies called scrubbers and bag-houses and sorbent injection," he said.
"And other companies are just kind of holding back and waiting until the federal government makes them clean up."
Levin said the government isn't making that happen, yet.
The power companies warn there is a cost with cutting mercuty emmissions, a cost that will be reflected in high electic bills.