• 11.17.11

Mercury Rising: The Most Contaminated Spots In The Country

Power plants have a tendency to spew mercury into the air. Mercury is not something you want to be breathing, though. Where in America can you most avoid sucking down poison?

Coal-fired power plants don’t just spew CO2; they also release toxins, including mercury–a neurotoxicant that can damage verbal skills, attention, motor control, and IQ in children. If you live in certain parts of the U.S., you’re being exposed to more than your fair share of mercury.


A map in a new report from Environment America breaks it down:

Six of the top 10 most polluting coal-fired plants are in Texas. Louisiana, Ohio, Missouri, and Alabama each have one. Others in the top 25 are scattered all over–Arizona, Arkansas, West Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are just some of the unlucky states housing power plants that emitted over 524 pounds of airborne mercury emissions in 2010.

If you’re wondering who to blame, Environment America spells it out. The top five polluting power companies are American Electric Power, Luminant Generation Co., Southern Co., Ameren Corp., and NRG Energy. These offenders were responsible for over one third of power plant mercury emissions last year.

In December, the EPA will finalize the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants, which have been in the works for over two decades. The standards will force coal-fired (and oil) power plants to slash toxic emissions. By 2015, overall mercury emissions will be cut 90%. And at that point, we should all take a deep breath, because we will have dodged 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, 12,000 ER and hospital visits, 11,000 heart attacks, and 17,000 premature deaths.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.