It was a Monday when I snapped this photo.
Beatrice, my two-year-old, was sick and just wanted Mommy to hold her. I wished that I could, but I had deadlines to meet and meetings to attend. She clung to me, crying, as I gathered our things, loaded her in the car, and drove to her Grandma’s (because I have that option, thank goodness), my heart aching. Once Bea was happily ensconced on Grandma’s lap, I headed to work. As I approached, I saw a familiar, and maddening view — brown streaks across the sky — evidence of the nearby A.B. Brown coal-fired power plant.
The stacks from that plant are visible from the Indiana campus where I work, and the playground at the on-site childcare center where I recently enrolled Bea. I see those stacks every day and despite what I know, when I look at the image above, it’s almost impossible to fathom the havoc coal-fired power plants are wreaking on the planet and on our health.
When we see coal plants, we tend to think of climate change and air pollution caused by carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates. But also spewing from those stacks is mercury. A.B. Brown, owned by the local utility, is dwarfed by American Electric Power’s Rockport Power Plant to the east or Duke Energy’s Gibson Generating Station to the north. The Rockport plant is among the worst in the country for mercury. It released 1,067 pounds of mercury last year. A.B. Brown released 142 pounds.
Mercury is dangerous even in small amounts. A potent neurotoxin, mercury can cause brain damage in infants and affects children’s ability to walk, talk, read and learn. Read more about how mercury poisoning works. American Electric Power has the distinction of owning six of the top 25 worst plants for mercury emissions, and along with other big polluters is spending millions in rate-payer money to stop hard-fought rules that would require them to clean up their plants and keep mercury (and other toxins) out of our air, water, and food. The Environmental Protection Agency says the Mercury Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, would prevent:
- 11,000 premature deaths
- 4,700 nonfatal heart attacks
- 130,000 asthma attacks
- Developmental problems in children that affect IQ, learning, and memory.
It might even clean up those brown streaks.