Ohio’s coal-burning power plants are among the nation’s most dangerous for toxic air emissions, emitting thousands of pounds of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other chemicals into the air each year. And that is bad news for Lake Erie.
The 28 largest coal-burning power plants in Ohio spewed an estimated 83 million pounds of hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, sulfuric acid and other toxic acid gases into the air in 2002, more than any other state. Acid gases are corrosive and can cause acute respiratory problems, as well as aggravate chronic respiratory ailments such as asthma. Mercury from power plants has contaminated fish throughout the Lake Erie Basin including every lake, river, and stream in Ohio. Toxic mercury levels in fish often exceed the “safe” limit for women of childbearing age and young children, causing all of the Great Lakes states to issue fish consumption advisories.
“Many Ohioans fish to put food on the table, not just to catch and release. That’s why we need strong federal protections right now. But the mercury reductions proposed by the Bush administration’s plan are too little, too late,” added David Celebrezze of the Ohio Environmental Council.
The EPA recently determined that many of the chemicals released from coal burning power plants pose a serious public health threat when released into the air by other industrial facilities. A controversial mercury rule proposed by the Bush administration would allow Ohio’s power plants to continue releasing unlimited amounts of these toxics indefinitely, flying directly in the face of EPA findings.
Water pollution and contaminated fish aren’t just bad for your health, they’re bad for the economy. Power plant pollution is hurting the $1.2 billion sport fishing industry in the Ohio portion of Lake Erie. It is estimated that a long-term decline in angling of just 25 percent due to the lake and stream-fouling effects of mercury would cost the state’s economy $308 million per year and jeopardize many of the 10,782 jobs in Ohio that depend on fishing.
“Sport fishing is the backbone of Lake Erie’s travel and tourism industry. As a business owner and a tournament fisherman, we need to take care of the mercury problem now, not a generation from now,” said Gary Lowry, owner of Maumee Bait and Tackle in Maumee, Ohio.
And mercury isn’t the only problem threatening air and water quality in and around Lake Erie. Power plant emissions ranked Ohio among the top 10 states for emissions of five other toxic chemicals that are not controlled:
“It’s clear that mercury is just the tip of the toxic iceberg. Ohio power plants are releasing tons of the most dangerous chemicals ever known, but the Bush administration plan will keep the public completely unprotected from these toxic substances. The public would be far safer if the administration would stop mangling and start enforcing the Clean Air Act,” said Nic Nicolet, Field Organizer for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group.
Clean air and water advocates are charging that the Bush administration has bent the law to let power plants off the hook, putting the public at increased risk for serious health risks from exposure to toxics known to cause cancer, developmental defects and breathing disorders.
Under the Clean Air Act, once the EPA determines that an air pollutant is hazardous, it must set strict controls on it, called maximum achievable control technology standards. In 2000, the EPA concluded that power plants are a source of emissions of more than 60 toxic air pollutants, including mercury. The agency officially labeled power plants a “source category” for air toxics and determined that it was “appropriate and necessary” to require maximum achievable reductions for all power plant air toxics, as required by the Clean Air Act.
The Bush administration’s mercury rule proposed in 2003, however, de-listed power plants as a “source category” of air toxics. This action relieves power plants of any obligation to control more than 60 hazardous air toxics, including lead and mercury.
“The EPA has gone out of its way to avoid controlling hazardous air toxics,” said Molly Flanagan, Great Lakes Director for the Ohio Environmental Council.“It ignored its own stringent findings, scuttled tough recommendations from an expert task force, then cut and pasted key portions of its deceptive mercury rule from utility industry memos. That may be covering all the bases for the electric industry, but it’s strike three for the public health.”