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Panel: Some WV plants may not meet new mercury standards

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A regional commission that sets water quality standards for the Ohio River says dozens of industrial and sewage treatment plants may not be able to meet new standards on mercury limits that are supposed to go into effect later this year.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports that the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission has sent a list of about 60 such facilities to regulators Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia. The panel says current monitoring shows they may not be able to meet the tougher standards set to begin in October.

The list published on The Courier-Journal's website lists 11 plants in West Virginia, including 3 power plants and 4 sewage treatment plants, including those in Parkersburg and Huntington.

Commission Director Peter Tennant says the list was drafted as a screening tool for state agencies and to estimate the number of requests the commission may receive for variances.

The newspaper reports the regulatory crunch could lead the commission to put off or change enforcement. There are already health warnings issued on eating fish from the Ohio River due to high levels of mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says elevated levels of the substance are of special concern in unborn babies and young children because it can harm developing nervous systems.

In Kentucky, regulators could fine industrial plants that don't meet the new standard up to $25,000 per violations per day, but cases are usually settled for much less.

Officials said facilities such as power plants and factories may need to change how they do business, and sewage treatment plants will need to work with customers on decreasing the amount of mercury dumped into systems.

Tennant noted the difficulty of the task and said the commission is trying to work through possible problems.

"Do we grant a blanket continuance to allow us to sort our way through this? Or do we defer some and concentrate on the big ones? Anything we do is going to be less than ideal," he said.

The leader of a Kentucky group that tracks water quality issues says the problem is serious.

"This is a big concern," said Judy Petersen, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. "We are recognizing more and more the dangers of mercury in the environment and mercury in our bodies."

Regulators in Kentucky and Indiana said the data could be wrong or outdated, but they will use the list to check permit requirements and to try to figure out if variances will be needed.

"For those ones we find, looking at updated data, we will be in contact with them to make them aware of the situation," said Paul Higginbotham, the permitting branch chief with the Indiana Department for Environmental Protection's Office of Water Quality. "We will work with that company or municipality, and coordinate with ORSANCO, to make sure Indiana's rules are complied with."

Kentucky Division of Water assistant director Peter Goodmann said his agency is taking similar actions.

"We are going to look at this data and any other data we have to make a determination about compliance status and what compliance challenges may be," he said.

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press