EIP wants power plant to 'clean up their act'
by Mark Ledbetter
The Ernest C. Gaston Electric Generating Plant in Wilsonville was recently listed by the Environmental Integrity Project as the second largest source of mercury pollution in the nation.

The EIP, a non-profit organization established in 2002 by former Environmental Protection Agency enforcement attorneys, reported Jan. 3 that the Wilsonville plant is second in mercury pollution to Luminant Generation in Rusk, Texas, which was cited as releasing 1,502 pounds of mercury into the air in 2011, while the Gaston plant released 1,244 pounds.

Other plants listed in the top 10 are three more Texas based Luminant Generation plants, the Great River Energy Plant in North Dakota, Ameren Corporation's Labadie Energy Center in Missouri , Grand River Dam Authority in Oklahoma, DTE Energy in Michigan and American Electric Power in Texas.

The Gaston plant is on the Coosa River about 1.5 miles downstream from the Coosa River Bridge in Childersburg and across the river from McGowans Ferry Road west of Childersburg.

Constructed by the cooperative effort of Alabama and Georgia Power companies, originally the Gaston plant was known as Southern Electric Generating Company. SEGCO was completed in 1962 and consisted of four 250,000-kilowatt units. An additional unit generating 880,000 kilowatts was put in service in 1974.

The mercury release is the result of coal fired power plants emitted into the atmosphere. According to the EPA, mercury may settle in to water bodies and affect water quality.

Through microbial activity, the mercury is converted into methylmercury and can accumulate in levels that may harm the fish and their predators.

Mercury is a neurotoxicant that can affect adults, children, and developing fetus. The most common way people are exposed to mercury is by eating fish.

EIP’s report included comments from EIP attorney Ilan Levin: “Nationwide, equipment has been installed over the years to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. That has helped cut down on the release of mercy, toxic metals and acid gases from power plants over the past 10 years.

“However, that progress is uneven, and the dirtiest plants continue to churn out thousands of pounds of toxins that can be hazardous to human health even in small concentrations.

“Emissions from local power plants deposit mercury and other toxic metals in nearby rivers and streams, where these pollutants concentrate in aquatic organisms at levels that can make fish unsafe to eat. The fact that so few plants are responsible for so much of the mercury pollution makes the solution less complicated; the dirtiest sources need to clean up their act.”

In response to the EIP report, an Alabama Power Press release stated that the report “misses some important context.”

Alabama Power Company reported that from 2007 through 2011 mercury emissions were reduced more than 40 percent and all air releases reduced by 62 percent.

Gaston’s unit 5 installed “selective catalytic reduction technology and reduced mercury emissions from the unit nearly 80 percent,” the release reported.

Further, the release reported that preliminary construction to convert the four smaller units to operate by natural gas and the installation of a “baghouse,” a device designed to reduce mercury emissions, will be in place by 2016 at an estimated $650 million investment by Alabama Power.

In 2011 the Alabama Department of Public Health issued an Alabama Fish Consumption Guideline that restricted the consumption of channel catfish and largemouth catfish in the Lay Reservoir.

An updated guideline released in September 2012, however, does not restrict the consumption of any fish in the Lay Reservoir.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at mledbetter@dailyhome.com

© 2013