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OPG mercury emissions up

Despite downward trend in Ontario: report

Canadian Press - September 27, 2004
By Colin Perkel


TORONTO -- Ontario's publicly owned power generator is bucking a provincewide trend to lower mercury emissions because demand for electricity has increased and nuclear plants are performing poorly, a new report concludes.

The report, to be released Monday by Environmental Economics International, finds that Ontario's overall emissions of the toxic metal fell by more than 80 per cent between 1988 and 2001.

During the same period, emissions from the five coal-fired generating stations run by Ontario Power Generation climbed by 16 per cent -- to 582 kilograms a year from 500 kilograms, the report finds.

"With an international consensus developing that no level of exposure to mercury is safe, the urgency to reduce or eliminate human-caused releases of mercury is significant,'' the report states.

Based on federal data, the analysis finds the coal plants were responsible for almost 40 per cent of Ontario's airborne mercury emissions, with the Nanticoke plant on the north shore of Lake Erie the worst offender.

The Ontario government has promised to phase-out the coal plants by 2007, using new gas-fired plants and added nuclear power to make up for the lost generating capacity.

There are also fears the province, whose power supplies are already tight at peak periods, could be pushed into a shortage without the coal plants.

Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which released the report, said Ontario Hydro promised in 1991 it would implement conservation programs to cut demand but never followed through. "If OPG had kept its promises, its mercury emissions in 2001 would be more than 50 per cent lower than its 1988 emission levels despite the shut down of the nuclear reactors and despite electricity load growth,'' he said.

Mercury is a highly dangerous toxin that can cause neurological damage and constitutes a major health hazard.

Airborne mercury finds its way into the province's lakes, and almost all fish-consumption advisories for inland lakes are the result of such contamination.

"We already have a clear indication of the wide-ranging health and environmental impacts of mercury releases to air, land and water,'' the report says.

But as other sectors have cut their mercury emissions, those from Ontario Power Generation represent "an ever-increasing percentage'' of the remaining emissions, the report states.

The report also argues that getting rid of coal plants will also eliminate "a slew of other toxins, dangerous particulates and significant quantities of greenhouse gases.''



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