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Michelle Hesterberg,
Environment Minnesota

New Report Shows Toxic Mercury Emissions Threaten Minnesotans

For Immediate Release

XCEL Energy’s Sherburne County power plant (Sherco) in Becker emits the most mercury pollution of any power plant in Minnesota and the 40th most in the country, according to brand new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data outlined in Environment Minnesota’s latest report, Minnesota’s Biggest Mercury Polluters. The report found that in total, power plants in Minnesota emitted 876 pounds of mercury pollution in 2010.  Environment Minnesota’s report comes as EPA is set to finalize a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants this month.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that harms growing children and pollutes our environment.   Mercury exposure can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ. Mercury pollution is so widespread that new EPA estimates show one in ten women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant.

“Parents in Minnesota shouldn’t have to worry that their children’s bodies are toxic dumping grounds,” said Ken Bradley, Program Director for Environment Minnesota. Young children and developing fetuses whose brains are just beginning to form are most vulnerable to the neurological problems caused by mercury exposure. “The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect our children’s health from toxic mercury pollution, and we can’t let big polluters stand in the way.“

Environment Minnesota’s report uses just-released 2010 emissions data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, which uses self-reported data from power plants and other facilities to track how much of a variety of toxic substances the facilities release into the air.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, with 2/3 of all airborne mercury pollution coming from these power plants. They emit mercury into our air, which then falls into our waterways with rain or snow, where it builds up in fish and enters the food chain. Even a small drop of mercury is enough to make the fish in a 25-acre lake unsafe to eat.  

As a result of widespread mercury contamination, Minnesota has issued a statewide advisory warning against the consumption of species of fish that tend to have dangerous levels of mercury.

“Every angler who eats fish should be alarmed,” said John Lenczewski, Executive Director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited.  “Our great Minnesota traditions and quality of life are threatened – our ability to share a meal of fish with our children and grandchildren is at stake.  Minnesota’s 2 million anglers and their families deserve better.”

Environment Minnesota’s report found that the XCEL Energy’s Sherburne County power plant (Sherco) in Becker emits the most mercury pollution of any power plant in Minnesota and the 40th most in the country. The plant also ranked as the 13th dirtiest power plant in the country in 2007 based on its carbon dioxide emissions. In total, power plants in Minnesota emitted 876 pounds of mercury pollution in 2010.

The report comes as EPA is poised to finalize a landmark standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in December. This will be the first time in history that EPA limits toxic mercury pollution from power plants, and once fully implemented, the new standard as proposed would reduce overall power plant emissions of mercury by more than 90 percent. But while EPA is in the process of issuing this final standard, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to keep EPA from doing its job by threatening to block this and other rules that limit dangerous air pollution.

“EPA’s proposed mercury standard will protect children and families from a known poison,” said Bradley. “Senators Klobuchar and Franken should stand up for Minnesota’s families by supporting EPA’s much needed standard, and oppose efforts by polluters and their allies in Congress to delay or block EPA’s efforts.”