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MERCURY IS TOXIC

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MERCURY IS TOXIC
Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet
GET THE FACTS:
MERCURY IS TOXIC
COAL PLANTS EMIT MERCURY POLLUTION
C
oal-fired power plants are one of the largest
sources of pollution in our country. They emit
thousands of pounds of toxic mercury pollution
every year, as well as arsenic, lead, and acid gases,
putting families at risk.
Approximately 48 tons of toxic mercury are pumped into our
air each year from coal-fired power plants, which are the largest
domestic source of federally unregulated mercury pollution in
the United States. 1
A recent report by Environment America analyzing data from
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release
Inventory found that coal-fired power plants in the U.S. emitted
more than 130,000 pounds of toxic mercury pollution in the year
2009 alone.2
Toxic mercury is released into the air and then rains down
into our lakes, streams, and other waters. Mercury in water is
converted into the most toxic form (methylmercury) by aquatic
organisms, which are eaten by fish. Mercury accumulates in fish
tissues, poisoning them and the animals that eat them.
MERCURY POLLUTION MAKES US SICK
Mercury can also make its way to our dinner tables via
contaminated fish. Once ingested, mercury acts as a potent
neurotoxin and can cause damage to the brain and nervous
system.
Pregnant women and children are at greatest risk from mercury
exposure, especially if they consume large amounts of fish and
seafood. Exposure to mercury in utero can contribute to birth
defects including neurological and developmental disorders,
learning disabilities, delayed onset of walking and talking, and
cerebral palsy.3
At least 1 in 12, and as many as 1 in 6, American women have
enough mercury in their bodies to put a baby at risk.4 That means
that each year over 300,000 babies are born at risk of mercury
poisoning.5
3 Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury, Board on Environmental Studies and
Toxicology, National Research Council. Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury. (National Academy
Press, 2000)
1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mercury Study Report to Congress, Volume II: An Inventory of Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in the United States. EPA-452/R-97-003. (December 1997).
4 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.
epa.gov/mercury/exposure.htm.
2 “Dirty Energy’s Assault on Our Health,” Environment America, January 26, 2011, http://environmentamerica.org/reports/toxics-free-communities/stop-toxic-pollution/dirty-energys-assault-onour-health-mercury
5 Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Robert P. Clickner, Catherine C.
Bodurow, April 2004
www.sierraclub.org/mercury
Sierra Club Headquarters: 85 Second Street, Second Floor • San Francisco, CA 94105 • (415) 977-5500
Toxic Mercury
Pollution Map
Current Status
491 coal-fired plants emit
78,367 lbs. of toxic mercury each year
(Less than one teaspoon of mercury can
contaminate an entire lake.)
Plant Data
Click on a plant on the map to get more
information about it.
Legend/Filter
Biggest Offenders
Mercury Polluters
Find this mapping tool1 and more information
at www.sierraclub.org/mercury
1 Swain, E.B., et. al., 1992, “Increasing Rates of Atmospheric
Mercury Deposition in Midcontinental North America”, Science,
257: 784-787
MERCURY POLLUTION CONTAMINATES OUR WATER
Today, our waterways are so polluted that nearly all fish contain
traces of mercury. However, fish that are at the top of the food
chain, like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, pose the
greatest risk to our health, because more mercury accumulates in
their bodies.
Federal, state, and local governments across the United States
regularly identify waterways that are contaminated with unsafe
levels of mercury by issuing fish advisories—which encourage
people to limit fish consumption from polluted areas.
As of 2008, 50 states, one U.S. territory, and three tribes had
issued mercury advisories. Eighty percent of all advisories in
effect in 2008 were issued, at least in part, because of mercury.
In 2008, there were 16.8 million lake acres and 1.3 million river
miles under advisory for mercury. This represents an increase of
19 percent for lake acres and 42 percent for river miles from 2006
levels. The increase was largely driven by new, statewide mercury
advisories in Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming.6
Nationally, the EPA recommends that Americans concerned
about mercury limit their fish consumption to no more than
12 oz. of fish with lower mercury levels (such as shrimp, canned
light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish) per week. The EPA
recommends that women and young children generally abstain
from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they
contain high levels of mercury. For locally caught fish when
6 U.S. EPA, National Listing of Fish Advisories: Technical Factsheet. US EPA, Office of Water. EPA823-F-09-007. (September 2009). Available at: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/tech2008.cfm
www.sierraclub.org/mercury
mercury levels are unknown, the EPA advises no more than 6
ounces per week.7
WE NEED STRONG EPA MERCURY PROTECTIONS
Powering our homes should not poison our families and foul our
water.
There is a cure for this crisis—the EPA can help clean up our
air and water and protect our kids’ health by enacting protections
against mercury and other air pollution.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can implement safeguards
to limit Americans’ exposure to extremely harmful air pollutants
called “air toxics.” Air toxics include mercury, arsenic, lead,
dioxin, and acid gases. Even in small amounts these are linked to
cancer, mutations, neurological damage, and other serious health
problems.
In 2011, the EPA is expected to propose an updated protection
called the “Power Plant Maximum Achievable Control
Technology (MACT)” standard.
This move by the EPA to protect public health will save lives,
prevent disease and avoid hospitalizations, while creating new
jobs building and installing air pollution control equipment.
It’s impossible to put a price on the health of our children. We
need the Environmental Protection Agency to enact a strong Air
Toxics safeguard to protect our children from mercury.
7 U.S. FDA and U.S. EPA brochure, What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish: Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young
Children http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/files/MethylmercuryBrochure.pdf
Sierra Club Headquarters: 85 Second Street, Second Floor • San Francisco, CA 94105 • (415) 977-5500
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