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Release Date: 02/25/98
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EPA today released a technical report required by Congress that evaluates toxic air emissions from electric power plants. The Agency also detailed a series of steps it is taking to protect public health and the environment from these emissions.
The report concludes that mercury is the air toxic of greatest public health concern from utilities. One third of all human-generated U.S. mercury emissions come from coal-fired plants (51 tons annually). No mercury is emitted from gas or oil-fired plants. Although not conclusive, evidence suggests a link between utility mercury emissions and the methylmercury sometimes found in soil, water, air and fish caught in contaminated waters.

“Actions this Administration already has taken will reduce emissions of mercury by over 50 percent by 2006,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “We will continue to take cost-effective, common-sense actions to protect public health and the environment from these emissions.”

The report concludes there are no feasible technologies currently available that could effectively reduce mercury from coal-fired facilities. EPA, however, still is taking several steps likely to further reduce mercury emissions, including:

--Implementing EPA’s tougher new air standards for smog and particulate matter (soot);

--Evaluating new or promising control technologies;

--Seeking better information on emissions from individual power plants, and developing a proposal to make this information available to citizens by lowering the threshold for mercury reporting under the Agency’s right-to-know program (the Toxic Release Inventory).

Additionally, some steps that power plants may take to help reduce greenhouse gases could also serve to reduce mercury emissions.

Since 1995, EPA has taken several steps addressing other important sources of mercury to reduce emissions by over 50 percent by 2006. These steps include:

--EPA has issued final rules to reduce mercury emissions by 94 percent from medical waste incinerators.

--EPA has proposed to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent from hazardous waste incinerators (The rules are expected to become final late this year); and

--EPA has issued final regulations to cut mercury emissions by 90 percent from municipal waste combustors.

The greatest exposure of humans to mercury is for those subsistence fishers and others who regularly eat large amounts of non-commercial fish from mercury-polluted waters. The typical U.S. consumer eating fish from restaurants and grocery stores is not in danger of consuming harmful levels of methylmercury.

Besides mercury, the report analyzes 66 other toxic air pollutants from 684 power plants nationwide that burn coal, oil or gas, and that are greater in size than 25 megawatts generating capacity.

The report finds there are also potential health concerns about utility emissions of dioxin, arsenic, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride and nickel, although uncertainties exist about the health data and emissions for these pollutants, and more investigation and evaluation are needed. The rest of the 67 air toxics studied do not appear to be of significant concern for public health.

Scientific experts outside EPA peer-reviewed the report, and their comments were incorporated in today’s publication.

The report will be computer-accessible on the Internet at the following address:

The study is entitled “Study of Hazardous Air Pollutant Emissions from Electric Utility Steam Generating Units -- Final Report to Congress,” February 1998 (EPA - 453/R-98-004 a & b). Paper copies will be available from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) in several weeks. Check the above internet address for further information.

For further technical information on the study, contact Bill Maxwell or Chuck French of EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at 919-541-5430 or 919-541-0467 respectively.

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