Environmental Impact of The Coal Industry - Air Pollution - Mercury Emissions

Mercury Emissions

Mercury emission from coal burning are concentrated as they work their way up the food chain and are converted into methylmercury, a toxic compound which harms both wildlife and people who consume freshwater fish. Coal burning is a key source of methylmercury in the environment. "Power plants... are responsible for half of... the mercury emissions in the United States."

In New York State winds bring mercury from the coal-fired power plants of the Midwest, contaminating the waters of the Catskill Mountains. The mercury is consumed by worms, which are eaten by fish, which are eaten by birds (including bald eagles). As of 2008, mercury levels in bald eagles in the Catskills had reached new heights. "People are exposed to methylmercury almost entirely by eating contaminated fish and wildlife that are at the top of aquatic food chains." Ocean fish account for the majority of human exposure to methylmercury; the full range of sources of methylmercury in ocean fish is not well understood.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulations, which require all coal plants use the technology which is available to substantially reduce mercury emissions. "Today, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy pollution control technologies that will help them meet these achievable standards. Once final, these standards will level the playing field by ensuring the remaining plants – about 40 percent of all coal fired power plants - take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants." This technology is expected to save many thousands of lives every year, and to protect Americans from severe permanent health effects such as those suffered by children exposed to mercury in the womb.

Read more about this topic:  Environmental Impact Of The Coal Industry, Air Pollution

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Famous quotes containing the word mercury:

    The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
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    —W.H. (Wystan Hugh)