14% of Mercury in Great Lakes Comes from China…but the Largest Source is Nearby Coal-Fired Power Plants

Monday, June 11, 2012
Homer City Power Plant (photo: KDKA)
Airborne mercury from half way around the world has wound up in the Great Lakes in measurable quantities. But the largest contributor of this harmful substance to Lake Michigan and other bodies of water is nearby coal-burning power plants.
China is responsible for 14% of the mercury in the Great Lakes, according to scientists. But a much larger percentage, 32%, originates from American sources, mostly electrical generating plants that burn coal. The mercury from China is produced by mining, metallurgy and the burning of coal to produce electricity. The six nearby coal-fired power plants that are the worst sources of mercury pollution are Shawville in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania; Monroe in Monroe County, Michigan; Homer City in Indiana County, Pennsylvania; Cardinal in Jefferson County, Ohio; Sherburne County in Sherburne County, Minnesota; and Muskingum River in Washington City, Ohio).
To help reduce this contamination, the Natural Resources Defense Council has urged plant operators to add mercury pollution control equipment and develop alternative energy sources. Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania do not have rules for reducing mercury emissions.
Mercury poisoning can be harmful to human health and impact the central nervous system, brain, heart, lungs and immune system. It can also cause developmental problems for young children and unborn babies.
In addition to the mercury that travels from China, another 17% of the Great Lakes contamination comes from a collection of countries, led by Canada, India, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and Colombia. Another 23% is natural and 14% comes from mercury that has already landed in the ocean and finds its way back to the Great Lakes.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Poisoning the Great Lakes: Mercury Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants In the Great Lakes Region (by Vicki Stamper, Cindy Copeland and Megan Williams, Natural Resources Defense Council) (pdf)
China Second Largest Source of Great Lakes Mercury Pollution (by Saodat Asanova-Taylor, Great Lakes Echo)
AK Steel Takes First and Third in Contest for Worst Polluter of U.S. Waterways (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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