Man blames power plants for mercury emissions into river

ST. CLAIR COUNTY, ONTARIO - A Canadian environmentalist has filed charges in an Ontario court against DTE Energy, alleging the utility's mercury emissions have been violating Canada's Fisheries Act for two years.

Under Canadian law, private citizens are allowed to initiate and conduct a case for what they consider breaches. Scott Edwards, Waterkeeper Alliance's legal director, says the Belle River and St. Clair coal-fired power plants are depositing a harmful substance into the St. Clair River and disrupting a fish habitat. He accuses the St. Clair County facilities of rel asing 2,000 pounds of mercury annually. DTE could face fines starting at $300,000 if found guilty and if the Canadian government doesn't take over the case.

"My dream resolution is that DTE Energy installs in their Detroit Edison facilities, Belle River and St. Clair power stations, readily-available mercury-control technologies," Edwards said recently. "I want to see the river restored to a healthy waterway, so people, birds and fish can enjoy" it. DTE counters that it meets all state and U.S. regulations, adding that Ontario doesn't have any specific mercury-emissions laws. "The allegations are baffling," DTE Energy spokesman John Austerberry said.

"All Detroit Edison power plants, including the Belle River and St. Clair power plants, are compliant with state and federal emissions. No mercury emissions standards exist in Ontario, despite the existence of many coal-fire plants." He added that the company, which has seven of these power plants, is spending $1 billion to reduce mercury discharge and to further decrease nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides emissions.

And what mercury is released is minimal - the equivalent of filling the Houston Astrodome with ping-pong balls and painting seven of them silver, he said. Mercury is naturally found in coal. The highly-toxic methyl mercury that it can change into may build up in fish, shellfish and in animals and people that eat fish, which can lead to damaged nervous systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says In the United States, coal-fired power plants are the number one source of human-caused mercury emissions, the EPA says. The Belle River facility opened commercially in 1984 and the St. Clair plant opened in various stages between 1953-61, Austerberry said.


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