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Largest Mercury Testing Project Puts Spotlight on Proposed Kalama Power Plant


Final Results of Largest Mercury Testing Project Puts Spotlight on Proposed Coal-fired Power Plant in Kalama, WA

Washington – The results of the nation’s largest mercury hair-sampling project were released today by the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. The survey found mercury levels exceeding the EPA’s recommended limit of one microgram of mercury per gram of hair in one in five women of childbearing age tested.

More than 6,600 women from 50 states of all ages participated in the hair tests conducted by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Here in Washington State, 28% of Washingtonians were found to have a dangerous amount of mercury in their bodies. The study comes at a time when Energy Northwest, a consortium of public utilities in Washington, has proposed to build a $1 billion coal-fired power plant in Kalama, WA, a facility that would increase mercury emissions in the state.

Mercury contamination is a particular concern for women of childbearing years (16 to 49 years old) because mercury exposure in the womb can cause neurological damage and other health problems in children. The EPA has not established mercury exposure health standards for older children, men, or women older than 49.

"We don’t want more mercury emissions by building a coal-fired power plant in southwest Washington,” said Shannon Harps, Associate Regional Representative with Sierra Club. "This study should be a wake-up call for Washington to move to smart, clean energy solutions such as wind and solar in order to keep women and children mercury-free."

Coal burning power plants are the nation’s biggest mercury polluter, releasing 42 percent of the country’s industrial mercury pollution. The Centralia coal-fired power plant is the second most mercury polluting source in Washington State. Mercury from dirty power plants falls into lakes, streams and oceans, concentrating in fish and shellfish, which are then consumed by people.

“In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption,” said Dr. Steve Patch, Co-director of EQI and co-author of the report. “We saw a direct relationship between people’s mercury levels and the amount of store-bought fish, canned tuna fish or locally caught fish people consumed.”

In 2005, The Bush Administration proposed weak power plant mercury regulations that violate the Clean Air Act, according to 11 State Attorneys General. States have taken the lead in protecting Americans from mercury pollution, and, most recently, Illinois’ Governor Blagojevich called for 90% reductions in mercury. The spotlight now shifts to Governor Gregoire, as Washingtonians urge her to say no to new fossil fuel in-state facilities and no to purchasing out-of-state energy from coal-fired power plants.

Home hair sampling kits are available at cost via Sierra Club’s web site: http://sierraclub.org/mercury/get_tested/. The EQI report and supporting documents are available at http://sierraclub.org/mercury/.


Video and photos available                 

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2006

Contact: Shannon Harps, 206-378-0114 ext. 306