Illinois lakes polluted with mercury

By Gus Bode

PIRG makes stop for campaign; state issues advisory on consumption of fish

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Lake Kinkaid and SIUC’s Campus Lake are two of the most mercury-polluted lakes in Illinois, but they are not alone. Every body of water in Illinois has been contaminated with the pollutant.


The Illinois Public Interest Research Group, which is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization, visited Carbondale last week to promote “No More Mercury,” a campaign to build coalitions among local businesses to raise awareness of mercury pollution in Illinois lakes and the harmful effects it has on the population.

The mercury originates from coal-burning power plant emissions. It is then released into the air and settles in the water. After settling in the water, it ends up in fish.

The state has issued a fish-consumption advisory, meaning that people should limit consumption of fish caught in Illinois. This is particularly true of children and women of childbearing age and concerns every lake acre and every river mile.

The Illinois PIRG has been working on this campaign for more than two years, and it is all coming down to this summer campaign to see if their efforts will pay off. The Illinois PIRG office is based in Chicago and celebrated its 15th anniversary in June.

Field manager Erin Ichikawa said a crew of four Illinois PIRG workers canvassed for five days in Carbondale, talking to the public door-to-door, promoting civic participation and creating issue awareness.

“Carbondale is overall a very supportive community; they were very generous, and their awareness of the issue was very high,” Ichikawa said.

The crew signed up several new members and made more than $25,000 in donations.


“It worked out great,” said canvasser Kevin Sadjak, “We got 50 new members, which is very significant, considering we were 40 miles away from the power plants.”

The Illinois PIRG has been visiting cities across the state, including the Chicago area and Rockford, in hopes to persuade the Blagojevich administration, which will decide whether to set new power plant emission standards for mercury and other pollutants. The next stop for the crew will be Springfield. The Illinois PIRG is working to persuade them to propose tight emission rules that will cut mercury by 90 percent by 2010.

There are 23 coal-fired power plants across Illinois, including one in Marion. Combined, they release 6,000 pounds of mercury every year.

The PIRG’s short-term goals are to clear the air of pollutants through simple measures like requiring all power plants to meet modern pollution standards. In the long run, it is needed to rely less on coal, oil and other power sources that pollute the air and environment. Reliance on solar power, wind and other renewable power sources is also vital.

Cleaning up the mercury and other pollutants from all the power plants in Illinois would dramatically reduce mercury contamination in Lake Michigan and in water bodies all over the state. At the same time, it would make our air cleaner, lower asthma attacks, emergency room visits and premature deaths caused by soot and smog.

“The program is helping out because once we get this bill passed, the power plants will be mandated to clean up their acts, and consequently thousands upon thousands of people will not be exposed to the dangers they would have been to,” Sajdak said.