This is a real fish story. Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station at the north end of Old Town Alexandria really did land a big one Tuesday morning. And, it even came with a certificate of recognition.
It was all compliments of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and their state tour to "stop mercury pollution and protect the health of Virginia's families." Joshua Low, Chapter Conservation Organizer for Virginia's Sierra Club, presented the Mirant, a coal fired power plant with the "Big Mercury Polluter Award."
Standing outside the plant, adjacent to Marina Towers, 501 Slaters Lane, Low and Alexandria resident, Ernie Lehmann, inflated a giant fish to symbolize aquatic life being impacted by mercury pollution, according to Sierra Club research. Sierra Club considers the Mirant plant "a large mercury polluter."
As part of their efforts to bring attention to the mercury pollution problem, they have initiated the "Keep Me Mercury Free Road Trip." It highlights the dangers of ingested mercury to unborn children. At each stop on their journey a certificate is presented to the organization they consider to be contributing to the pollution.
Tuesday morning, following inflation of the fish balloon, a certificate was presented to Mirant. It read: "Keep Me Mercury Free Road Trip, Big Mercury Polluter — It's Time To Clean Up, This certificate is Awarded to Mirant Power Plant, Alexandria."
According to Sierra Club findings "One in four women who were tested in Virginia had enough mercury levels in her body to put a baby at risk for neurological development problems, such as mental retardation. The Mirant Power Plant put more than 70 pounds of toxic mercury into the air."
In their release announcing the road trip, the Club said "The largest single source of mercury pollution is coal fired power plants. The Sierra Club is calling on Govenor Kaine to protect Virginia's families by cleaning up these old, dirty power plants."
In addition to their stop in Alexandria, Club representatives also visited sites in Yorktown, Chesapeake, Glen Lyn, Clover, Chesterfield, and Bremo Bluff. Monday night, Low gave a special slideshow presentation at Thomas Jefferson Library in Falls Church explaining the organization's concerns relative to mercury pollution.
RECENTLY RELEASED RESULTS of the nation's largest mercury hair sampling project by the Environmental Quality Institute, University of North Carolina-Asheville, found mercury levels exceeding limits in women of childbearing age. More than 6,000 women from all 50 states of all ages participated in the tests conducted by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
"I teach my children that if you make a mess, you need to clean it up," said Sierra Club's Elizabeth.Keeler. "The same should hold true for polluting power plants. This study should be a wake-up call for Virginia."
Coal burning power plants are the nation's largest source of mercury pollution, releasing 42 percent of the country's industrial mercury pollution, according to Sierra Club research. Mercury from dirty power plant emissions falls into lakes, streams and oceans, contaminating fish and shellfish, which are then consumed by people, the Club maintains.
"In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption," said Dr. Steve Patch, co-director EQI and co-author of the report. "We saw a direct relationship between people's mercury levels and the amount of store-bought fish, canned tuna fish or locally caught fish people consumed."