Iowa’s power plants spewed 2,735 pounds of poisonous mercury into the air in 2009 – the 17th highest tally for power plants in the nation, according to a new report from Environment Iowa.
The report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency readies to propose new limits on mercury and other emissions from power plants across the country – one year after a ruling that coal plants, the biggest emitters of mercury, no longer need to keep tabs of how much they release.
Walter Scott Jr Power Center, a plant in Council Bluffs emits 709 pounds of mercury every year on its lonesome, the most in Iowa, according to the report.
“Powering our homes should not poison our kids,” said Shelley Vinyard, Toxics Advocate for Environment America, in a news release. “Mercury pollution from power plants puts our kids and our environment at risk, and we need the Environmental Protection Agency to force these facilities to clean up.”
Iowa has 72 coal-fired power plants. Ninety-two percent of Iowans live within 30 miles of coal-fired plant, and one third of children attend schools nearby one.
After these plants release mercury into the air, it falls from rain or snow into waterways, where it builds up in fish and animals and people who consume them.
The EPA says long exposure to low levels of mercury can harm people’s cardiovascular and immune systems. Higher levels, can severely impair the nervous system, and potentially cause death, as IowaWatch.org reported in December. Fetuses exposed to mercury can develop mental retardation, cerebral palsy and deafness, and even low doses can lead to cognitive disabilities in children and impaired heart and immune systems.
More than 330,000 people buy fishing licenses each year in Iowa, and many of the fish they catch and eat are contaminated with levels of mercury that the EPA deems dangerous. But the state of Iowa is failing to warn consumers, according to the IowaWatch report.