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State tops list of mercury releases in air

May 23, 2002, 10:36PM

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Electrical power plants in Texas released more toxic mercury compounds into the air in 2000 than in any other state, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency's Toxic Release Inventory, a massive database of more than 650 toxic chemicals released by nearly 23,500 factories, refineries, power plants, mines and chemical plants, also showed that Texas led the nation in total releases by manufacturing industries.

When releases from the mining industry are included, Texas ranks fifth -- behind Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Alaska. Before the mining industry and oil- or coal-burning electric utilities were added to the inventory in 1998, Texas consistently ranked first for total toxic releases.

The EPA reported that 7.1 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment nationwide in 2000, a reduction from the 7.8 billion pounds released in 1999. In addition, 37.9 billion pounds of production-related toxic waste was reported, a substantial increase over the 29.5 billion pounds from the year before.

Texas manufacturers released nearly 246 million pounds, followed by Pennsylvania (139 million pounds), Ohio (137 million pounds), Louisiana (135 million pounds) and Indiana (134 million pounds).

When all sources are included, the total for toxic chemicals released into the Texas environment in 2000 is nearly 302 million pounds, with about 103 million of that going into the air. Nevada is the clear national leader with 1 billion pounds of toxics being released.

State environmentalists said the numbers show that massive amounts of toxic pollution continue to be released into the environment and that pollution control laws should be strengthened and enforced.

Karen Hadden of the SEED Coalition, an Austin-based environmental organization, said Texans should be particularly concerned about the amount of mercury being released. Mercury and several other toxic chemicals were added to the list of releases that have to be reported to the EPA in 2000.

Nearly 4.3 million pounds of mercury and mercury compounds were released nationally in 2000. Nearly 605,000 pounds of that was released in Texas. Texas oil- or coal-burning electric utilities released 15,000 pounds of mercury, more than any state.

People are exposed to mercury primarily by consumption of fish, Hadden said, which caused 44 states to warn residents to limit their consumption last year. Mercury is thought to harm development of children's brains and nervous systems.

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