Mercury is an extremely toxic pollutant. In babies, it can cause lasting harm to fetal brain development. In adults, it has been associated with increased risk of heart attacks, endocrine disruption, diabetes risk, and compromised immune function.
Coal plants and other industries emit mercury into the air. Once in the air, it can settle on surface waters like the Great Lakes, where it changes to methylmercury. It enters the food chain through plants and small organisms and works its way up to fish big enough for land animals and humans to catch and eat. The bigger the fish, the more mercury it has accumulated. By the time people consume these fish, the mercury has become significantly more dangerous.
Sadly, fish advisories frequently warn Midwesterners away from eating the fish they catch. But even the fish at grocery stores and restaurants can pose a threat, since mercury contamination is a global issue. See this pocket guide for quick tips on making safe fish choices, especially for children and pregnant women. But consumers aren’t the only ones who can take action against mercury. Power plants and other industries must reduce emissions in the first place through the use of available technology and fuel choices.
What is ELPC Doing?
- Throughout the Midwest, ELPC fights to reduce mercury in our air and water by cleaning up old, dirty coal plants that are responsible for so much of our mercury pollution. We have pushed for air quality standards, requiring a reduction in mercury pollution through the use of pollution control technology like scrubbers or catalysts, which are designed to limit air pollutants like mercury, lead, arsenic, and acid gases.
- ELPC helped to pass the Illinois Mercury Pollution Reduction Standard. Adopted in 2006, this legislation required a 90% reduction in pollution by 2009. In 2011, the federal EPA followed suit with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), that codified nationwide protections mandated by the Clean Air Act.
- In December 2018, the EPA announced they were starting a process that could lead to repeal of the MATS rule, potentially upending a major success story in the long-term struggle for clean air and water. Mercury pollution from power plants has declined by 85% from 2006 to 2016, and utilities have already invested in clean technology; there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost from reversing course on this successful policy. ELPC is fighting to save MATS in order to protect our children and the Midwest environment.
Mercury Matters 2018: A Science Brief for Journalists and Policymakers , Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health