Report: Clean Air, Healthy Families

America's Biggest Mercury Polluters

How Cleaning Up the Dirtiest Power Plants Will Protect Our Health

Power plants continue to release large amounts of toxic pollutants, including mercury, into our air. In 2010, two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution in the United States came from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. In other words, power plants generate more airborne mercury pollution than all other industrial sources combined.*

Mercury is a potent neurotoxicant. Mercury exposure during critical periods of brain development can contribute to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ. In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the first national standards limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution from existing coal- and oil-fired power plants. Implementing these standards will protect public health. 

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of airborne mercury pollution.

• The Big Brown Steam Electric Station and Lignite Coal Mine in Fairfield, Texas, emitted 1,610 pounds of mercury pollution into our air in 2010, the most of any industrial facility in the nation.

• This amount is significant because mercury is so potent. Distributed over a wide area, just fractions of an ounce of mercury can contaminate local and regional water bodies, making resident fish unsafe to eat. All 50 states currently have advisories warning women and children not to eat local fish due to mercury contamination.

• Of the top 10 biggest mercury-polluting power plants in the country, six are located in Texas, with one each in Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and Ohio. Table ES-1 lists these top 10 biggest mercury polluters.

• Among all states nationwide, Texas ranked first in terms of overall airborne mercury pollution produced by power plants in 2010. Ohio ranked second, followed by Pennsylvania in third. (See Table ES-2.)

• Just five companies were responsible for more than one-third of all power plant mercury emissions in 2010, led by American Electric Power with 6,200 pounds. (See Table ES-3.)