For between 69 cents and $2.14 per month, residential energy consumers in Michigan and Ohio could help make coal-fired power plants 90 percent efficient at reducing mercury emissions, according to a study released yesterday by one of America's largest environmental groups.
The National Wildlife Federation contends that existing emissions control equipment is capturing less than 35 percent of air emissions of mercury, which is one of the world's most hazardous air pollutants because it falls from the sky and gets into fish. Humans consume the mercury-tainted fish, which can result in damage to the brain and nervous system. Children are especially at risk.
Spokesmen for area utilities with coal-fired plants claim the specific technologies cited by the National Wildlife Federation report are still impractical for large plants, but they agreed with the overall theme that more cost-effective ways of cleaning the air are on the horizon.
"There are certainly technologies under development," said Ellen Raines, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., which owns the coal-fired Bay Shore power plant in Oregon. "We are not opposed to making additional improvements."
Len Singer, Detroit Edison Co. spokesman, said the utility industry is eager to see cost-effective technologies move beyond the demonstration phase. Detroit Edison owns the Monroe power plant, one of the nation's largest coal-fired power plants.
National Wildlife officials claimed that coal plants in both Ohio and Michigan could start removing 90 percent of the mercury from their emissions primarily by doing two things: injecting powdered activated carbon into the flue gas and installing fabric filters on boilers.
Such improvements could cost residential ratepayers as little as 69 cents a month in Michigan or $2.14 a month in Ohio, the federation claims. Commercial and industry users would pay more. The group said its estimates stem from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database.
National Wildlife officials claimed activated carbon injection "is commercially available, has been tested at a number of plants, and has a good track record."
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Iowa are states with the most progressive mercury laws, the agency said.
The U.S. EPA has identified Ohio as the nation's No. 2 mercury emitter behind only Texas. While coal plants release more mercury than any other U.S. industry, the federal agency has determined that some of North America's mercury drifts in from as far away as Asia.
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