UNDERHILL, Vt. (AP) – Environmental Protection Agency computer models, developed as the federal agency prepared emission rules for coal-fired power plants, showed that no mercury from their stacks would fall on Vermont.
But it does, say scientists working at the Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill.
Eric Miller of the Norwich-based Ecosystems Research Group, who has been collecting the data, said it shows that spikes in airborne mercury in Vermont follow periods of hours or days in which air stagnates over a coal-fired power plant in Ohio or Pennsylvania.
The EPA computer models “show a zero for the effect of power plants on mercury deposition in Vermont,” Miller said last week. “Their model world doesn’t jibe with the real world we are measuring.”
Miller’s findings could help Vermont and other states that are pushing for tougher mercury controls on power plants. They have long maintained that prevailing west winds make New England the tail pipe to emissions from inland parts of the country.
Mercury shows up as toxic methylmercury in the tissues of fish including walleye, lake trout and smallmouth bass. But if ingested by humans, especially fetuses and small children, it can cause neurological damage.
That’s why the state Health Department urges that pregnant women and young children sharply limit their intake of many types of fish, and eat no walleye or large lake trout at all.
Miller said the biggest jump in airborne mercury during his sampling was Aug. 31, 2005, when air that was over Vermont had spent the previous days stalled near coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania.
The EPA has justified its reading of the science by maintaining that much of the airborne mercury it hears complaints about comes from China and other sources outside the United States.
Miller said his is one of several studies that have raised questions about the EPA’s approach.
“If we want to address trying to lower the amount of mercury getting into our environment, we have to have an accurate understanding of the sources responsible,” Miller said.