I just came back from a trip to Illinois, where the state had the good sense to put mercury protections in place for coal-fired power plants back in 2006. Unfortunately, here in West Virginia and in most other states, there are no mercury protections in place whatsoever, because the coal lobby has spent the last two decades blocking federal mercury standards for coal plants. So mercury rains down on the rest of us, while residents of a handful of states enjoy strong mercury protections.

Today, a new report names the top mercury polluters in the country, and you should check it out — one of them might be in your state, or even in your backyard.

I’ve written about the health effects of coal plant’s mercury emissions numerous times — and the reason I keep beating that drum is because the industry is getting away with so much as they pollute our air and water, while our families pay the price. Something needs to be done.

Mercury especially threatens pregnant women and young children. I will never forget being warned by my doctor, when I was pregnant, not to eat fish known to be high in mercury, because of the danger that mercury exposure would cause developmental problems in my daughter — a lowered IQ, and delays in walking and talking. Fortunately, I was informed, but many mothers are not. Alarmingly, as many as 1 in 6 American women have enough mercury in their bodies to put a baby at risk. That means that over 300,000 babies are born each year at risk of mercury poisoning.

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And so I’m especially disturbed by this new analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project that we’re helping release today.

The EIP analysis shows total state-by-state and plant-by-plant emission levels for arsenic, chromium, mercury, cobalt, hydrochloric acid, nickel, and selenium, all of which are toxic pollutants.

Look at this list of the Top 20 Power Plant Air Toxics Emitters (click the graphic to enlarge).

Top emitters
While all people living near these plants are at risk, Pennsylvanians are at an especially huge risk from the six plants that made this list. A relatively small handful of the nation’s most polluting power plants generate a disproportionate amount of reported toxic emissions

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And if we narrow it down to just the emitters of mercury, Texans suffer the brunt from six plants in the top 20. And that’s just if you’re considering those living nearby. Unfortunately, this air pollution doesn’t respect county lines or state boundaries. (Click the graphic to enlarge)

Top mercury

According to EIP, the filthiest states highlighted in the report are (in alphabetical order):   Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, my home state of West Virginia, and Wyoming. If you don’t live in one of those states, like I do, I would wager you have friends or family who do.

More shocking results from this report:

  • The top 20 percent of all power plant mercury emitters reported 43,020 pounds, or almost 22 tons, of the chemical in 2010. This is 65 percent of all power plant mercury emissions nationwide. Considering that one drop of mercury pollution is enough to pollute a 20 — acre lake, this is a jaw-dropping amount of mercury pollution.
  • The electric power industry emits two-thirds of the nation’s industrial mercury emissions – our single biggest source of mercury pollution.
  • Texas is by far the nation’s top power plant mercury air polluter. Texas coal-fired power plants emitted 16.9 percent of the total U.S. mercury air emissions for 2010, and Texas is home to 11 of the top 50 mercury emitters in the nation.

We cannot let this continue. Thankfully, President Obama is preparing to issue the first nationwide protections for toxic mercury from coal plants, which would slash 90% of toxic mercury from coal-fired power plants. We expect those standards out later this month, and we will need everyone to weigh in with a strong show of support, since they are sure to come under attack from the biggest polluters.

As part of Mercury Awareness Week this week, Americans are showing their support for these long-overdue protections. Unfortunately, Big Coal and Big Oil are lobbying hard to block these commonsense safeguards.

This air and water pollution must stop, for our families’ sakes.