The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made recent efforts to regulate mercury and air toxics emissions from coal fired power plants, and representatives from the Alabama Environmental Council, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and GASP will participate in a public hearing in support of the proposed regulations. It will take place at the EPA Region IV office in Atlanta this Thursday, May 26th from 8 am to 9 pm.  Other related activities in Atlanta that day will include a free mercury hair testing event at the Vintage Barber Shop and a fish fry sponsored by the Coosa River Basin Initiative. 

Four of the nation’s top 50 mercury-emitting power plants in 2009 were in Alabama, and three of the top 25 were in the Birmingham metro area. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that one of the top sources of human exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can cause a variety of health problems from learning disorders to heart attacks, is coal-fired power plants. Coal plants are the single largest source of human-made mercury emissions. 

“We need the EPA to regulate mercury and stop this,” says Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council, who is scheduled to speak on behalf of the Alabama groups.  “We want to bring the message that Alabamians demand healthy air and water and we will no longer stand for being a state with some of the dirtiest air in the nation.”

According to Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, mercury doesn’t just pollute the air.  “Its real danger is when it gets in our waterways and into the fish we eat.”  Alabama currently has 61 lakes, rivers, and/or stream segments with fish consumption advisories for mercury. 

The EPA, which previously had no regulations specific to mercury, proposed a rule to set national standards for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants in March. According to the EPA, the proposed standards will prevent 91% of the mercury in coal burned in power plants from being emitted to the air, reduce acid gas emissions from power plants by 91%, and reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from power plants by 55 percent. This could prevent 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, 12,200 hospital & emergency room visits, 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 5.1 million restricted activity days each year. 

Citizens concerned about mercury and air pollution in Alabama can send written comments to EPA by July 5th and/or contact the Alabama Environmental Council or the Alabama Rivers Alliance to find out how to get more involved.