Airborne mercury emissions from Georgia’s coal-fired power plants fell significantly from 2009 to 2010, in part because of cleaner technology required by state regulators, an environmental group said in a report released Wednesday.
The analysis, compiled by Environment Georgia, used just-released 2010 emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, which uses self-reported data from power plants and other facilities to track toxic substances the facilities release into the air.
Georgia’s power plant mercury emissions fell from 3,816 pounds in 2009 to 1,154 pounds last year, which changed Georgia’s national rank from 12th to 22nd in such releases, said Jennette Gayer, the policy advocate for Environment Georgia.
“The improvements are a result of a state technology rule that passed in 2007, which has required power plant operators to install technology to capture mercury and other pollutants at some of Georgia’s coal-burning power plant facilities,” she said. “We’ve seen some reductions in mercury emissions in Georgia, but not enough.”
The biggest change among the Georgia facilities occurred at Southern Co.’s Plant Scherer in Monroe County. In 2009, its releases of 1,649 pounds ranked it sixth among the nation’s 457 coal-fired generating plants. The 2010 total of 236.8 pounds dropped its rank to 92nd.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm children and pollute water and soil and bioaccumulate in fish tissue. Mercury exposure can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ among children.
Although none of Georgia’s coal-fired plants is close to Augusta, the S.C. Electric & Gas Co. Urquhart Plant in Beech Island is just across the river from downtown. That facility released 26 pounds of mercury, ranking 375th nationally, the report said.
Although not included in Environment Georgia’s report, another source of mercury emissions in the area is the Olin Corp.’s chlor alkali plant on Doug Barnard Parkway.
The facility is among just four remaining U.S. plants that use a mercury cell technology to manufacture chlorine. In December 2010, the company announced plans to phase out the use of mercury at the Augusta plant by the end of 2012 and use the site to produce bleach and distribute caustic soda instead.
Olin’s Augusta mercury emissions have continued to decline in recent years. The plant reported releasing 151 pounds in 2010, less than the 171 pounds released in 2009 and the 191 pounds released in 2008.