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Minnesota leads in mercury control

Ninety percent of the atmospheric mercury that falls into Minnesota lakes and streams comes from outside of the state. When it comes to controlling the other 10 percent, Minnesota is leading the nation.

Mercury is released into the air from sources in Minnesota and around the world and then falls onto Minnesota land and surface waters. Mercury is a neurotoxin that converts to methylmercury in water, accumulating in fish and resulting in fish consumption advisories.

When the state's power utilities embarked on state-ordered efforts to reduce mercury in the mid-1990s, Minnesota's coal-fired utility mercury emissions were about 1,850 pounds per year.

Today they are down to about 870 pounds, and headed for less than 200 pounds by 2016. According to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Stine, that's a remarkable achievement.

"Getting to this point required bold thinking and innovative leadership on their part," Stine said. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now looks to Minnesota as a model for how other states can reduce their own emissions of mercury from power utilities,"

Xcel Energy Regional Vice President Laura McCarten said, "Achievements such as significant reductions in mercury and other air emissions result from strong partnerships, and a clear vision of where we're headed, among regulators, utilities, customers, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders."

An MPCA analysis showed that utility-sector mercury emissions are down by more than half from a decade ago.

The reductions are due to collaboration among public utilities, environmental organizations, legislators, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. That work resulted in the Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006.

Power utilities are the largest source of mercury emissions in Minnesota and most other states. Burning coal is the largest source in that sector. While the utility sector is leading the way, other source categories, such as the mining and mercury-in-products sectors, have further to go.

For more information on mercury emissions and the state's efforts to reduce mercury, visit the MPCA webpage at