Coal plant mercury in Alapaha River

Update 2015-04-28: See EPA 2002 report that spells out Plant Scherer as the largest mercury point source in the Alapaha Airshed.

Background to the EPA hearings on its proposed Clean Power Plan: EPA previously said nonpoint source pollution is the biggest water quality problem, and EPA and GA EPD say our Alapaha River is contaminated with mercury. That mercury comes from Plant Scherer, the country’s dirtiest coal plant.

The problem, effects, and cause are spelled out in these Comments on CAMR Draft, Language Options by Jill Johnson, Georgia Public Interest Research Group, April 6, 2006:

Mercury can impair water quality

  • Alapaha River watershed, Suwannee River basin, south GA – 11 basins affected in all
  • 2002 EPA TMDL analysis – in order to meet health std for mercury in fish tissue, total mercury in water column must be reduced. Requires a reduction in loading to watershed by 64%
  • EPA used data from Mercury Deposition Network site in Okefenokee and modeling to show deposition
  • Alapaha – EPA modeling estimates 64% of deposition in Alapaha basin is from U.S. sources
  • Power plants responsible for 53% of mercury loading in Alapaha according to final TMDL
  • 90% reduction in power plant emissions would reduce watershed loading by 47% or ¾ of total reduction needed for TMDL

What this means

  • Mercury emission reductions short of 90% may prevent us from meeting our water quality standards
  • Also, while power plants are large part of solution to GA mercury problem, we still need to make strides elsewhere – chloralkali plant, non-power plant coal boilers, products containing mercury

Types of coal

  • Coals vary in amt/type of mercury they release
  • Bituminous – used in most GA power plant units, produce more oxidized mercury
  • Subbituminous (PRB) – used at Plant Scherer, contains less sulfur, produces more elemental mercury

See also EPA’s 28 February 2002 report TOTAL MAXIMUM DAILY LOAD (TMDL) DEVELOPMENT For Total Mercury in the Alapaha Watershed, which shows many smaller sources of airborne mercury, but Appendix I demonstrates Plant Scherer is by far the largest in the Alapaha Airshed. Thanks to Patrick Kunes for the link.