Poisoning the Great Lakes

Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in the Great Lakes region

Mercury emitted into the air from coal-fired power plants is by far the leading man-made source of mercury in the Great Lakes and the rivers and streams of the region. This NRDC report analyzed pollution data to determine the top 25 mercury emitting power plants in the Great Lakes states, and the top three in each state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued nationwide standards to limit airborne mercury emissions and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants by 2015. Currently, not all states require that pollution controls be installed, including the report's top three culprit's: Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The report also highlights how a significant fraction of mercury and other air toxics emitted by the worst plants can be removed by air pollution controls already or soon to be installed at many power plants. Other technology that would achieve an overall reduction in mercury of 90 percent or more is readily available.

In addition, the study lays out the myriad impacts mercury pollution has on humans (our health and livelihoods) as well as wildlife and ecosystems. In humans, it can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Young children and developing fetuses are most at risk from the effects of mercury, which can damage their brains. Economic threats are addressed as well. In 2006, more than 11 million people, including 2.5 million children, fished in the Great Lakes and inland water bodies in the region. Many people rely on the Great Lakes fish through employment in the fishing industry or subsistence fishing.

The report outlines how local wildlife is being negatively impacted by mercury that gets into their systems, including iconic waterfowl such as the common loon and the great snowy egret, river otters and minks. Mercury contamination is also affecting the viability of popular sport and commercial fish populations, such as walleye.

Related Resources