Mercury causes severe health problems for humans and wildlife. Although there has been much public education about the effect of lead and other heavy metals, current information on mercury does not adequately inform the public about the threat people face from mercury pollution. Clean Air Council is concerned about the dangers surrounding mercury and addresses them in its mercury program.


Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is released into the environment from a number of different sources. The largest anthropogenic source of mercury comes from coal-fired electric power plants, accounting for about 40 percent of total U.S. man-made mercury emissions. Mercury in the atmosphere falls in precipitation into the nation's lakes and rivers. Once in the water, bacteria can transform the mercury into the particularly dangerous organic form, methylmercury. Methylmercury is a fat-soluble molecule that is easily absorbed through fish gills, and because it is bioaccumulative it remains in body tissue and builds up along the food chain. The effects of methylmercury can be devastating for humans, especially for fetuses and nursing infants. Mercury is also found in electric switches and relays, medical and measuring devices, dental amalgam (silver fillings), thermostats, lamps and other sources.

The Council works to reduce mercury in the environment by advocating for the removal of mercury in consumer and industrial products. The Council also advocates for limits on the amount of mercury that can be released from coal-fired power plants.

 Mercury pollution poses a threat to human health – especially that of young children and developing fetuses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working on a long-overdue national Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS). The new standard for coal-fired power plants is set to be finalized on December 16th and announced on December 19, 2011.

Whether living near a coal-fired power plant or not, anyone can be affected by mercury pollution. For example Representative Lois Capps who represents California’s 23rd congressional District in the United States Congress was recently and unpleasantly surprised to find she had an unsafe level of mercury in her body. She lives on California’s Central Coast far from any visible coal-fired smokestacks. 

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On August 4, 2011, Clean Air Council joined 30 environmental and public health groups in submitting comments on the “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants From Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Generating Units and Standards of Performance for Fossil-Fuel-Fired Electric Utility, Industrial-Commercial-Institutional, and Small industrial-Commercial-Institutional Steam Generating Units; Proposed Rule". The comments can be read below.

Considering the high mercury levels often found in tuna, how much of this fish is safe to eat?  Clean Air Council's presention "Tuna:  To Eat Or Not To Eat?  That Is The Question!" addresses this concern and provides other bits of information for you to consider when eating seafood.  

On May 24, 2011, Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director of Clean Air Council, testified before the United States Environmental Protection Agency regarding its proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rule.  The purpose of Mr. Minott's testimony was to, "strongly urge the EPA to ignore the intense lobbying of the coal industry in trying to get the EPA to overlook the health threat from coal burning power plants." The full testimony can be read below.