A chorus of calls for TransAlta to reduce emissions increased in volume this morning as a Seattle-based coalition released a report detailing what it called an “extremely dangerous” level of mercury roughly one month before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new mercury emission requirements.
Environment Washington, a citizen-driven environmental advocacy group, held a press conference this morning at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Seattle office, in which they released findings in a report titled “Dirty Energy’s Assault on Our Health: Mercury.” The report, compiled by Shelley Vinyard and Lauren Randall of the group’s research and policy center, warned about the effects of mercury contamination in the food and water supply — and ranked 451 electric utilities throughout the nation that emit mercury.
Using data reported by Trans-Alta and compiled in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory database online, the report ranked TransAlta’s Centralia plant 125th with a total of 361 pounds of mercury emitted in 2009, out of 134,365 pounds total emitted across the nation. Environment Washington field associate Kristen Dumas says the local number is unacceptable.
“Washingtonians love the outdoors, and to think a number of people are relying on dirty coal that emits mercury into our most beloved places is just sad,” Dumas said. “The data backs us up in calling on the EPA to enforce standards until the state of Washington comes up with its own plan for emissions statewide.”
Company Has Plans to Cut Mercury Emissions by 50 Percent
The company says their current mercury emissions will be cut in half thanks to new controls that will be installed at the plant and activated by Jan. 1, 2012. TransAlta Centralia spokesperson Angela Mallow said the plant will install a mercury emission capture technology that involves injecting an absorbent to capture the mercury and dispensing of it through the plant’s fly ash system, rather than releasing it into the air.
“We instituted these controls in anticipation of the EPA regulations,” Mallow said. “I think it’s going to show not only the state and federal government, but everyone that we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
The Washington state Department of Ecology and Trans-Alta signed a deal in May 2010, in which the company agreed to reduce 20 percent of emissions of nitrogen oxides, as well as 50 percent of emissions using the controls that would begin operating no later than Dec. 31, 2012. Mallow said the company is on track to finish that earlier.
Push for Tighter Regulations
But environmental groups, most notably Coal Free Washington and the Sierra Club, have repeatedly said the change isn’t happening quickly enough — a sentiment Dumas agreed with in principle, but said her attention is largely focused on politicians in Washington, D.C. and Olympia. Environment Washington hopes to send a message to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to support the EPA in setting more stringent standards for mercury pollution.
As for TransAlta, Dumas said her group hopes the state and TransAlta both turn to a coal-free solution by 2015 without jeopardizing the positive economic impact to Lewis and Thurston counties.
“We recognize that TransAlta is a very important economic part of the community, and we hope everyone involved can work for a way to eliminate the pollution and preserve jobs in the region,” Dumas said. “I’m very hopeful that we will see a good resolution to this.”
Christopher Brewer: (360) 807-8235
Health Concerns Caused by Mercury Pollution
By The Chronicle
The report “Dirty Energy’s Assault on Our Health: Mercury” gave a list of health concerns caused by mercury pollution, some of which the group says could be affecting people locally due to emissions from the TransAlta Centralia plant. Their report by the advocacy group Environment Washington cites Environmental Protection Agency estimates, stating one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her unborn child at risk for potential learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower intelligence quotients.
“This means that more than 689,000 of the 4.1 million babies born in the United States every year could be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution,” the group wrote in a press release.
Dr. Steven Gilbert, director and founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders, spoke at the Seattle event as well this morning. He provided a human voice to the data and called for an immediate end to mercury pollution.
“We have an ethical responsibility to ensure that our children can reach and maintain their full potential and our continued burning of coal jeopardizes this potential,” Gilbert said. “For the sake of our health, we need to phase out the use of coal in Washington, but until then, we must clean up this dangerous source of pollution.”