Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | December 22, 2008

Environmental lawyer Sanders says methylation and bioaccumulation make control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants top task in the future.

U.S. EPA issued a report in 1998 citing mercury emissions from electric utilities as the largest remaining anthropogenic source of mercury released to the air. EPA estimated that about 50 tons of mercury are emitted each year from U.S. coal-burning power plants, with lesser amounts coming from oil- and gas-burning units.

According to EPA estimates, emissions from coal-fired utilities account for 13 to 26 percent of the total (natural plus anthropogenic) airborne emissions of mercury in the United States. 

In the natural environment, mercury can go through a series of chemical transformations that convert elemental mercury to a highly toxic form called methylmercury.  This natural process is called methylation and is driven by bacteria that convert inorganic mercury to methylmercury.  


The rate of methylation is dependent on many factors, including mercury availability, bacterial population, nutrient load, acidity and oxidizing conditions, sediment load, and sedimentation rates (National Research Council, 1978).


Once in an organic form, mercury enters the food chain, particularly in aquatic organisms, and bioaccumulates via the food chain.  Cases of mercury poisoning have been documented in people who eat mercury contaminated fish for prolonged periods, both in the United States and abroad.  

Here in the United States, FDA, EPA and the states issue health advisories that warn against eating too much fish contaminated with mercury via bioaccumation.air-pollution-from-coal-fired-utility-plant  The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the Kentucky Division of Water issue advisories for eating recreationally caught fish in Kentucky.  The current mercury advisory for fish taken from Kentucky waters is at




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