AUGUSTA — Conservation organizations from around the state are speaking out about mercury sources that are polluting South Georgia’s waterways. Currently, thousands of miles of Georgia’s streams and reservoirs have advisories for limiting the amount of fish residents eat due to mercury pollution. According to the US EPA, coal-fired power plants are one of the largest sources of mercury pollution to waterways in the nation. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that is known to cause birth defects and learning disabilities in developing babies and young children.
In April, Georgia issued permits for two proposed coal plants, Longleaf Energy Station in Early County and Plant Washington in Washington County. Combined, these two coal plants would contribute an additional 9,000 pounds of mercury to the air in Georgia during the life-span of the plants. Conservation organizations filed suit against the state’s issuance of permits for these coal plants citing a myriad of procedural, environmental and public-health concerns.
Due to procedural irregularities, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division withdrew the permit for the Longleaf Energy Station.
New York-based LS Power Group has been attempting to get permits to build this proposed coal-fired power plant in southwest Georgia for more than 10 years. This coal plant would be one of the top 10 sources of mercury in the state.
"Citizens in Southwest Georgia are gathering to speak out against a proposed coal plant that would add more mercury to our air, Longleaf Energy Station. We want to make sure that all Georgians know that our government continues to permit new sources of mercury to already-overloaded river systems in south Georgia," Ogeechee Riverkeeper Chandra Brown said. "We can make safer choices for our families by choosing smaller fish, eating smaller portion sizes and varying the types of fish that we eat, but enough is enough. It’s time for our government to make better choices for all of our safety."
A study released in summer 2009 by the U.S. Geological Survey found that South Georgia’s tea-colored or "blackwater" streams were particularly high in mercury levels. These streams convert mercury from air pollution into its most toxic form, methylmercury.
Also in 2009, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper worked with volunteers to collect fish from the Ogeechee, Canoochee and coastal river systems to test for mercury. The report issued by the group shows that largemouth bass from these river systems contain so much mercury that adults should eat the fish no more than once a month. Redbreast sunfish from these streams fared better. Adults should limit redbreast to one meal a week.
In Washington County, near Sandersville and the Ogeechee River, a second coal plant is proposed by a conglomerate of Electric Membership Co-Ops from the metro-Atlanta area. Local residents have been working to protect their community from the mercury pollution that this plant would create.
"We don’t need more mercury in our river, instead we need to clean up the mess we have," said Katherine Cummings, board member of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment. "Many families count on the fish as a real part of their food budget and are not even aware of the already high levels of mercury in the fish they are eating."
The major source of mercury pollution to fish in the Savannah River is Augusta-based Olin Corporation, according to Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. "Mercury enters the river from this industry. It gets into our fish and ends up on our families’ dinner tables," she said. "It’s time that these dirty companies are required to clean up their act."
To view the report issued by Ogeechee Riverkeeper on mercury levels in fish, sources of mercury pollution and how to make safer choices, go to www.mercury-free-families.com.