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Release Date: 11/16/98
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As part of the Clinton Administration's public right-to-know initiatives, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it will require most coal-fired electric generating plants to make publicly available for the first time ever information concerning mercury emissions coming from their smokestacks. Coal-fired utilities are the major source of mercury emissions in the United States.
"Community right-to-know efforts are a hallmark program of the Clinton Administration, and one of the most effective tools to solve tough environmental problems," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "Putting information about toxic chemical pollution directly into the hands of citizens helps them make informed decisions about how to best protect the health of their families and work in their communities to prevent the pollution in the first place."

Mercury is a heavy metal that, with high exposure, can cause developmental problems in fetuses and delay walking and talking in children, as well as lowering scores on nervous system function tests. Mercury is of particular concern because it persists in the environment. Mercury air emissions can end up in waterways through rainfall and runoff and "bioaccumulate," or build up, in the food chain. Mercury is the most frequent cause of fish consumption warnings issued by states. Forty states to date have issued fish consumption advisories in at least one body of water. Subsistence fishers and women of child-bearing age particularly are advised to pay careful attention to such warnings posted by states.

Last February, in a report to Congress evaluating toxic air emissions from power plants, EPA concluded that utilities are the largest source of mercury emissions into the air, with one third of all U.S. man-made emissions coming from coal-fired plants (virtually no mercury is emitted from any other type of power plant fuel). The report also called for monitoring of power plants to better ascertain the quantity and nature of mercury emissions. Today’s action responds to that need.

Under the information collection authority of Section 114 of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, EPA will soon send letters to utility companies requiring all coal-fired power plants above 25 megawatts generating capacity (approximately 1400 plants nationwide) to sample and test for mercury content of the coal they burn and report the results of the testing to the Agency. EPA will also require a sample of 75 plants (randomly selected to include the major types of coal and pollution controls, e.g. scrubbers) to perform smokestack testing for the amount and type of mercury emissions. EPA will then make the results of these tests available to the public.

EPA will begin collecting the emissions data Jan. 1, 1999, and start making it available to the public on the Internet early in the year 2000.

Congress has directed EPA to consider whether to regulate mercury emissions, and the information collected will prove pivitol to that assessment. EPA will use the data for several purposes. First, it will allow EPA to compile the most accurate data ever assembled on total mercury emissions from the electric power generating industry. Second, the information on the type of mercury emitted will help the Agency better determine the degree to which the pollution is a local or a regional or global transport problem (the distance mercury travels depends on the type emitted). Third, the data will aid EPA and others in developing mercury emissions control technologies (the two basic types of mercury emissions are elemental and oxidized).

Today's action is not a regulation and will not appear in the Federal Register; however, supporting information is accessible immediately at website: For further technical information, contact William Maxwell of EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at 919-541-5430 or e-mail him at:

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