Tag Archives: mercury

Court Upholds Air Safeguard that Would Prevent Thousands of Deaths from Toxics and Mercury

In a ruling that will help thousands of Texans subject to hundreds of pounds of mercury and toxics released every year to the atmosphere to the air by dirty coal plants in Texas, the US Court of Appeals upheld the US EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule of 2012. Below is a press statement. 


NAACP joined other clean air advocates in defense of this important protection

APRIL 15, 2014



Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule (MATS). Earthjustice represented the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council,and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the case.

MATS will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed days of work days. It will also protect babies and children from exposures to mercury than can damage their ability to develop and learn. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to mercury in the womb.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic air pollutants, and account for almost half of the nation’s mercury emissions. The Clean Air Act directed the EPA to set limits requiring the maximum achievable reductions in mercury, arsenic, lead, and the many other hazardous air pollutants that power plants emit no later than 2002. In 2012 after a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. A group of industry and corporate polluters immediately filed a lawsuit challenging this rule.

The following are statements from groups who defended the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule:

Said Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program for NAACP:

“The NAACP applauds the D.C. Circuit Court for this important and historic decision. Civil rights are about equal access to protections afforded by law. Given the disproportionate impact of coal combustion pollution which negatively affects the health and educational outcomes as well as the economic wellbeing of communities of color, the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule is a critical tool for exacting justice. These standards provide essential safeguards for communities who have suffered from decades of toxic exposure.”

Said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller:
“Mercury from power plants is a leading source of the pollution that has led to fish consumption advisories in rivers and streams around the country as well as here in the Chesapeake Bay region. Those contaminated fish put the health of many, including those who fish to feed their families, at risk,” said Jon Mueller, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation. “These new limits will reduce pollution and the associated human health risks, and is a legacy that we should leave to our children and future generations.”

Said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director, Clean Air Council:
“The court’s decision to affirm these long, overdue standards clearly demonstrates the importance of controlling toxic emissions while also rejecting the complaints of inconvenience raised by industry and corporate polluters. We applaud the court’s judgment and look forward to ensuring this critical rule is properly implemented.”

Said Mary Anne Hitt, Campaign Director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coalcampaign:
“Coal- and oil-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution that poisons our lakes and streams, as well as arsenic and other toxic metals and gases. By upholding the rule, the court has helped our country take a great step forward toward protecting our children from these dangerous pollutants.”

Said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew:
“The emission limits upheld in court today have already won broad public support, and for good reason. Power plants’ toxic pollution takes a horrible toll on peoples’ lives and health, especially in low income communities and communities of color. By allowing this rule to take effect, today’s decision will help reduce that toll.”


Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084
Michelle Nealy, NAACP, (202) 292-3384
John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, (443) 482-2045
Ryan Knapick, Clean Air Council, (215) 567-4004, ext. 125
Anna Oman, Sierra Club, (202) 650-6061

Mercury protection on its way. Help get it across the finish line!

Mercury is a toxin that few people think about, yet it contaminates many aspects of our daily lives.  It can be found in fish, in groundwater, and in the air we all breathe every day.  Even fewer people realize that the simple flick of the light switch can contribute to mercury pollution.  Mercury often comes from coal-fired power plants, where tens of thousands of pounds of it are dispelled throughout our air every year.  Texas power plants emit the the most mercury out of any other state, with the least regulation.

Mercury has many effects on our health, even in trace amounts.  According to the EPA’s website1, some of the many effects mercury has can include:

  • “For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development.”
  • “Mercuric chloride has caused increases in several types of tumors in rats and mice, and methylmercury has caused kidney tumors in male mice.”

Worst part is: mercury is not currently regulated.

In December of this year, the EPA plans to protect the public from polluters that poison our air and water with a new air quality safeguard.  Specifically, this new protection will guard us from life-threatening pollution from power plants, such as mercury and arsenic.  It is called the “Mercury, Arsenic, and Dioxin Reduction Rule,” is also known as the “Power Plant MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Standard.”

The EPA is set to finalize this proposed mercury protection next month and we want to make sure they make it across the finish line!  So what can you do to ensure polluters are held accountable for the poisonous mercury they emit?

You can host a teach-in.

A teach-in is an education-to-action tactic which utilizes the power of social networks in energizing supporters and getting more people engaged.  Teach-ins are a powerful and fun way to build community.  It focuses on bringing people together to learn as a group, and take action as a collective. Participants get to know other people and have conversations about their own stories and values and our shared values as a community.

December 5th is the first day of Mercury Awareness Week and the Sierra Club wants to help YOU host a teach-in.  It’s social, it’s fun, it’s educational, and it’ll help ensure we are protected from mercury pollution!

If you are interested in hosting a teach-in, please contact Lydia Avila, Sierra Club Organizer, at lydia.avila@sierraclub.org or 512-477-1729.

Kat Herrera, Houston Beyond Coal intern.

1. http://www.epa.gov/hg/effects.htm

Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and SEED Welcome Phase-out of Luminant Coal Units in Northeast Texas

Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the SEED Coalition welcomed the announcement today by TXU-Luminant that it will phase out two units at its coal-burning power plants and cease lignite coal mining at its Monticello Plant in northeast Texas.

“The announcement by Luminant today is a victory for all Texans who care about clean air. Coal-fired electricity is the primary source of toxic mercury pollution and is a leading trigger of asthma attacks. Children, the elderly, and anyone with respiratory illness are especially vulnerable to air pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants,” said Eva Hernandez with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Texas. 

Karen Hadden of SEED coalition adds, “Monticello is one of the worst units for mercury pollution in the nation. Mercury pollution results in brain damage to children.”

Luminant’s announcement can largely be tied to poor financial management according to a report released in March 2011 from analyst Tom Sanzillo demonstrated Luminant’s poor financial management of the Monticello, Big Brown, and Martin Lake merchant coal plants . The report can be found here.

The Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the SEED Coalition call on Luminant to follow the examples of other rational coal plant phase outs around the country and to protect workers and support clean energy reinvestment.

In March, Tennessee Valley Authority announced that it would phase out 18 units at its coal-fired power plants in the Southeast. This victory for clean air could be achieved, TVA said, while retraining workers for clean energy jobs or transferring them to other facilities. San Antonio’s CPS Energy announced the retirement of the Deely Coal while committing to retrain the workers for clean energy jobs or transferring them to other facilities.  The transition to clean energy in San Antonio will create between 800 and 1,000 local, clean energy jobs.

“Luminant’s actions are a good first step, but fail to get to the real issue. Even with low-sulfur Western coal, the emissions from the Big Brown plant are some of the highest in the state” said Tom “Smitty” Smith with Texas Public Citizen.  “Luminant needs to develop a long term plan for retiring Big Brown in addition to its temporary idling of units at Monticello.”

#  #  #

Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign counts 97 coal plants retired or committed to phasing out since the beginning of 2010. Those 97 coal plants represent 33,000 megawatts of dirty energy, or almost 10% of the coal power in the country.

Contact:  Eva Hernandez, 512-299-1550, Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, 512-797-8468

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The Last Mountain

The Last Mountain (click to see our poster about the movie!)

If you haven’t heard yet, today (July 21st) is the LAST day to see The Last Mountain in Austin at the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills. It’s a film that has it all- explosions, drama, and a happy ending.

Showtimes are: 2:50 pm      5:20pm     7:50pm     10:20pm

 This is an inspirational film in which community joins together to prevent their mountain from being destroyed by the coal industry.

But it’s not just about saving the mountain, it’s also about protecting democracy. Moreover, at stake is the health of everyone in the community which has already been compromised by previous mining operations.

Learn more about the movie and see the trailer here.

But coal doesn’t just affect this community, it affects YOU too. See how coal affects you and come out to see the movie and support the movement for cleaner energy solutions!

Better Mercury Standards? It’s a no brainer.

The EPA Safeguard:

Currently the EPA is considering increasing protections on various air toxics, including mercury. The safeguard proposed will prevent 91% of the mercury in coal from being released into the air. This safeguard has been proposed because of a study conducted by the EPA in 2000 which found that 7% of women of childbearing age are exposed to levels of mercury high enough to hurt the developing fetus. Due to the results of this study the EPA feels that it is necessary to regulate mercury, as well as other air toxics, produced by power plants.

Health Impacts of Mercury:

Mercury has been studied most in young children and pregnant women, where it has been found to lead to neurological problems including verbal, visual, motor, and learning disabilities. If exposed to mercury, women who breast feed may also expose their child. According to the EPA, about 300,000 infants each year have an increased risk of being born with learn disabilities because they were exposed to mercury while in utero. Moreover, in as study contracted by the EPA mercury was found to be associated with cardiovascular problems, namely acute myocardial infarction, through epidemiological evidence as well as other measures.

Mercury Sources:

Humans often ingest mercury from fish. However, one of the largest sources of mercury is coal plants. The mercury in coal is released into the atmosphere when coal is burned, and may then be transported long distances. After this, mercury accumulates in clouds and becomes a part of the water cycle. The process of bioaccumulation begins with tiny aquatic plants and animals that take in mercury from the water. These are then eaten by larger fish, and so on. However, with each step up the food chain, the concentration of mercury increases until it reaches levels that are unsafe for humans.

Mercury emissions in Texas are the highest nationwide and Texas has 5 of the 10 top mercury polluting coal plants. These plants are Martin Lake in Rusk Co., Big Brown in Freestone Co., Monticello in Titus, Limestone in Limestone Co., and H W Pirkey in Harrison Co. 

 Texas Fish:

A study conducted by the Costal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program in 2010 tested levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated dibenxofurans (PCDFs) in various fish including spotted seatrout, black drum, and redfish. A total of 49 fish were tested and they were found in various bays along the coast ofTexas.

Although smaller fish did not contain high levels of the contaminants, 4 out of the 5 oversized redfish collected in the surf zone contained levels of mercury high enough to be deemed unsafe for consumption by Texas Department of State Health Services. Moreover, the larger the fish, the more mercury that had accumulated. The average age of the redfish in this study was 20 years and these fish have a lifespan of around 50 years. It is expected that if the same conditions are present, these fish will continue to accumulate mercury. Redfish are a popular catch and fishermen sell many pounds of meat from the two oversized redfish they are allowed to keep. Although no conclusions can be made as the study was small, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries program recommends further studies on the levels of contaminants in redfish and the Texas Department of Health Services is reviewing the study to determine if consumer advisories are necessary.

What can I do?

Support the EPA’s efforts to reduce harmful mercury pollution by submitting a comment here.

For more information on the safeguard visit the EPA’s site.

For more information on the health impacts of mercury and the worst mercury emitters check out the EPA’s site and the Environmental Integrity Project report.

For more information on the study conducted on Texas Fish visit this site.


For an article related to this post: http://www.caller.com/news/2011/jun/08/toxins-in-certain-game-fish-could-spark-a-closer/

– Julia Von Alexander , Sierra Club Beyond Coal Intern.