W.Va. 7th in U.S. for Mercury

EPA: 2,495 lbs. produced in 2010

Morgantown Dominion Post
22 November 2011
By Alex Lang

Recently released numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show West Virginia is one of the worst states for mercury emissions from power plants, but local facilities produce far less than the worst offenders.

West Virginia produced 2,495 pounds of mercury in 2010 from power plants, according to numbers released this month. That was seventh-worst in the country. Texas was the worst offender, at 11,127 pounds; Ohio was second-worst, at 4,218 pounds.

Only one power plant in West Virginia made the top 25 list of worst offenders, as compiled by the nonprofit agency Environment America. The America Electric Power Amos Plant in Putnam Country ranked 16th, at 585 pounds.

In Monongalia County, 281 pounds of mercury emissions were produced in 2010 from three facilities, according to the EPA numbers. A majority, 276 pounds, came from the Fort Martin Power Station in Maidsville.

In Preston County, the Albright Power Station produced 91 pounds of mercury emissions.

Mercury can lead to health issues, especially development problems, said Lauren Randall, Clean Air Associate for Environment America. High mercury levels for pregnant women or newborns can lead to problems such as lower IQ.

The mercury from the emissions comes back to earth via rain and can be digested by humans and other animals. Emissions from power plants can also contribute to asthma and heart disease.

Those who live close to the plants are at the highest risk, Randall said.

It is hard to quantify how much mercury is needed to say that a certain level causes a significant health risk, Randall said. However, she said research has shown that even a drop of mercury into a small pond is enough to contaminate all the fish.

“Any mercury spewing out would pose potential risks,” Randall said.

In an ideal world, coal plants would not put any mercury into the air, Randall said. She added there are technologies available to help reduce emissions. There are also alternative energy options available.

The Fort Martin plant is the worst offender in the area, but First Energy Spokesman Mark Durbin said it is also one of the largest. He added the facility has scrubbers on it that help treat some of the emissions, such as Mercury, before they get into the environment.

Sierra Club Monongalia County Group Conservation Chair Jim Kotcon said the Sierra Club is well aware that West Virginia plants have significant mercury emissions.

He said the group continues to support the EPA’s proposed legislation to limit emissions and that every year it is delayed presents a direct health impact on the people of the state.

Recently, the EPA announced new emissions standards to be implemented in 2013. One of the standards is to limit mercury emissions to 16,600 pounds, a 92-percent reduction. According to Environment America, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has introduced legislation to delay enforcement of the new standards for at least two years.

Kotcon said the club would like to see the regulations put in place as soon as possible. He added they don’t want to see congress interfering with EPA regulations.