The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Coal-Fired Plants Contributing to Mercury Pollution ‘Hotspotsâ€TM

by Julie Sabatier

Jan. 11, 2007 – Two articles published this month in the journal BioScience identify five known and nine suspected mercury "hotspots" in northeastern North America and suggest US coal-fired power plants are, in some instances, largely to blame.

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A team of eleven scientists used data from more than 7,000 samples to quantify mercury levels in fish, loons and other wildlife from New York to Nova Scotia. They identified "hotspots," areas where the concentration of mercury deposits are at dangerously high levels. The studies were sponsored by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation (HBRF).

"We were looking at it from more of a scientific perspective, but we think the study does have strong policy implications, especially for the Clean Air Mercury Rule," Dr. Charles Driscoll told The NewStandard. Driscoll is a co-author of both BioScience articles.

The studies’ results suggest the EPA’s methods for measuring mercury levels are not sufficient. In one instance, the HBRF studies put the mercury deposition levels at four to five times what the EPA has reported for an area spanning parts of southern New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts near a coal-burning plant.

The scientists briefed the EPA on their findings Wednesday. In response, the Agency’s deputy press secretary, Jessica L. Emond, said in a press statement that the EPA working to improve atmospheric mercury monitoring.

Driscoll said there is some good news to come out of the study. "There can be a reduction in mercury in fish and animals," he said, citing a 45 percent reduction in mercury emissions in the lower Merrimack Valley in southern New Hampshire as a result of local efforts such as stricter rules about airborne mercury emissions.

It is unclear at this point whether the studies will result in policy changes from the EPA, but Driscoll said he would like to see a serious inquiry into the so-called cap-and-trade practice. Under that system, regulators do not hold all companies to equal pollution goals. Instead, they set an overall goal for the industry, permitting companies to buy and sell emissions allowances on the open market. Driscoll said this practice could allow pollution to be concentrated in hotspots like those identified by HBRF.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Julie Sabatier is a contributing journalist.

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