SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) today adopted the mercury pollution reduction plan proposed by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich in January, a major step towards reducing mercury pollution that will improve the environment and protect the health of the people of Illinois. Under the aggressive plan, Illinois coal fired power plants will be required to install modern pollution control equipment designed to reduce mercury pollution by 90 percent or more by June 30, 2009. The newly adopted state standards reduce toxic mercury emissions faster and more thoroughly than federal restrictions adopted last year and will achieve the largest overall amount of mercury reduction of any state in the country.
"Mercury poses a major threat to new mothers and children. If it’s ingested, it can cause serious physical and developmental disabilities in fetuses and kids. That’s why, when the federal government wouldn’t go far enough, we set out to significantly reduce mercury emissions from one of the leading sources in our state – power plants. I want to thank members of the Pollution Control Board for putting public health first and approving the rule today. Now we need legislators on the administrative rules committee to take the final step to making this rule official," said Gov. Blagojevich.
The Board’s adoption of the mercury rule is recognition that power companies can and must take aggressive measures to reduce toxic mercury pollution from their fleets of coal-fired power plants. The mercury emission reductions called for by the Governor and adopted today by the IPCB will reduce the risk of exposure to toxic levels of mercury, which is particularly dangerous for women and children. People are exposed to mercury primarily through the consumption of fish from mercury-contaminated waterways throughout Illinois and the entire country.
Illinois EPA filed the proposal with the IPCB in March. The IPCB then held two rounds of public hearings on the proposed rule, the first of which was held in Springfield in June, followed by a second Chicago hearing in August. The IPCB received a record number of more than 7,000 public comments, the vast majority of which were in support of the strong mercury reduction plan. The rule will now be submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a bipartisan legislative oversight committee of the Illinois General Assembly. Their review of the rule is the final step in the process that began when Gov. Blagojevich proposed the mercury reduction rule.
"The Governor’s mercury proposal that was approved today is among the strongest in the nation, and has led to even greater multi-pollutant reductions, making it even more beneficial to improving the quality of life for people throughout the state," said Doug Scott, Director of the Illinois EPA. "This is a huge victory for the environment and for public health in Illinois, and the Board should be commended for following the Governor’s lead to protect our citizens, our communities, and our environment."
Gov. Blagojevich’s commitment to reducing toxic emissions has garnered agreements with two of the three major coal-fired power companies in Illinois, reducing not only mercury, but other toxic emissions as well. Through agreements with Ameren, Illinois’ second largest utility, and Dynegy, Illinois’ third largest electric utility, 96 percent of their capacity will utilize pollution control equipment by 2009, and will achieve the mercury standards called for by the Governor. The remaining 4 percent of plants will install controls able to meet the standards by 2012.
While achieving the mercury standard, the utilities will also significantly reduce two other harmful pollutants: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, again surpassing federal standards. The deep reductions establish Illinois as a national leader in reducing the three most dangerous power plant emissions: mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides contribute to ground-level ozone and fine air pollution particles that can lead to respiratory illness, particularly in children and the elderly, and aggravate heart and lung diseases. These pollutants can also create acid rain, reduce visibility and damage to sensitive ecosystems.
"This ruling is a major public health victory. This mercury cleanup plan will protect future generations of Illinois children from the very serious dangers posed by mercury contamination. It is a major step forward towards the day when Illinois can hopefully lift the health warnings currently posted about the dangers of eating certain fish from every lake and river in our state," said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. "We commend the Illinois Pollution Control Board for the time and work they put into weighing all the evidence and ruling in favor of our children. We also applaud the leadership of Governor Blagojevich, Doug Scott, and all the staff at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for their hard work in enacting this historic pollution cleanup plan."
"The Illinois mercury rule will do what federal regulators wouldn’t: put children’s health first. The mercury rule and the consequent multi-pollutant provisions that reduce toxic pollutants even further means Illinois will still have among the most protective mercury rules in the country, but with additional up front reductions in soot and smog-forming emissions," said Max Muller, Environmental Advocate at Environment Illinois. "Risking the health of our children is not an acceptable cost of doing business in Illinois, and this multi-pollutant plan makes that clear."
Mercury can cause serious health problems to the human nervous system – pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children younger than 15 years of age are especially at risk. Developing fetuses can be exposed to mercury when a mother eats tainted fish and can suffer mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lower IQs, slow motor functions, deafness, blindness and other health problems. Recent studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of babies born each year in the United States are exposed to excessive mercury levels in the womb.
In the U.S., an estimated 43 percent of mercury emissions come from power plants, making them the largest man-made source of mercury emissions. The Illinois EPA estimates that the state’s coal-fired power plants emit 3.5 tons of mercury into the air every year.
During the Governor’s term, Illinois has enacted laws and established initiatives to:
Collect and remove mercury-containing switches from retired vehicles before they are processed as scrap metal;
Require state agencies to recycle or responsibly dispose of old electronic equipment that contains toxins like mercury;
Ban the production and sale of mercury fever thermometers and novelty items;
Expand the collection and recycling of climate control thermostats that contain mercury switches and relays in consumer products;
Prohibit schools from purchasing mercury for classroom use; and
Shut down hospital waste incinerators.