Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that has been linked to harming children’s brain development, including effects on memory, attention, language and fine motor skills. Coal plants emit approximately half of atmospheric mercury, with natural sources such as volcanoes responsible for the remainder.
There are about 1,100 coal-fired units at about 500 power plants in the United States, and about half of them are more than 40 years old. Of the 1,100 units, 44% do not use pollution controls such as scrubbers or catalysts to limit emissions, and they pour unlimited amounts of mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gases into our air. That air pollution often settles in surface waters, such as the Great Lakes, where it gets embedded in the fish that we later eat. By the time we ingest it, the mercury levels have been magnified and are even more harmful to our health.
What is ELPC Doing?
As described on our coal page, ELPC works throughout the Midwest to clean up old, dirty coal plants that are responsible for so much of our mercury pollution. This work has involved fighting for clean air standards, such as the Illinois Mercury Pollution Reduction Standard that was adopted in 2006 and that required a 90% reduction in mercury pollution by 2009. If plant owners are unwilling or unable to follow the law, we advocate for them to shut down – which is what happened to Chicago’s Fisk and Crawford plants in 2012 and a dozen other coal plants throughout the Midwest under ELPC’s leadership.
ELPC also advocates for better enforcement of the Clean Air Act across the board, not just for coal plants. State legislation like Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standards and the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard must be implemented to slash the amount of mercury in our air and water. Our hope is that one day families will again be able to eat fish without worrying that they are placing their health at risk.
Other mercury-reducing efforts include pushing for the SS Badger to stop dumping coal ash directly into Lake Michigan and working to minimize the risk that coal ash ponds impose on surface and groundwater