Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives

View EDF’s entire report (PDF).


Coal-fired plants are the primary source of toxic mercury air emissions in the U.S.

  • 20 of the 25 top mercury emitting coal-fired plants are located within 50-100 miles of population centers. A disproportionate amount of minorities live within these regions.

Mercury contaminates land and water and causes serious human health impacts.

  • Mercury that settles on land or on water is converted into a highly toxic chemical known as methylmercury.
  • The toxin is then consumed by fish, shellfish and birds and mammals. Humans are then exposed when they eat the contaminated food. Thousands of mercury contamination fish advisories are in effect across the country.
  • Mercury exposure at high levels can cause serious harm to the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune systems
  • Unborn babies and young children are particularly vulnerable.
  • According to the EPA, 410,000 infants are born annually from mothers with high concentrations of mercury in their blood.

The top 25 power plants contribute to a third of mercury emissions in the electric sector, but provide only 8% of the nation’s electricity.

  • Coal plants also emit other toxic pollutants, including metals and acid gases that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health issues.
  • Coal-fired plants produce ¾ of all mercury air emissions in the U.S.
  • In 2008 nearly half of the U.S. river-miles and lake-acres were under contamination advisories. That’s 1.3 million river-miles and 17 million lake-acres. 80% of the advisories were issued because of mercury contamination.

Technology exists today to reduce mercury emissions by about 90%.

  • Activated Carbon Injection (ACI) is the technology being used by most new and existing coal plants.
  • This technology is available for all coal types.
  • The cost capture a pound of mercury is 1/6 the 1999 price.
  • 40 coal plants already have ACI installed and more than 100 have the technology on order.
  • Since 1999, mercury air emissions have decreased by 27%. Only 17 states have regulations to limit mercury emissions.

Source: Environmental Defense Fund