Mercury concerns: Residents join 'Clean Power Coalition' to argue against We Energies' provision

OAK CREEK -- There was a call for stronger water protections during a public hearing in Oak Creek Monday, Feb. 11.

We Energies officials are working on a permit that includes a provision that would allow the company to discharge mercury-tainted water into Lake Michigan.

Those with the group "Clean Power Coalition" said the rate would be nearly three times the human health standard. Several residents who live near the coal plant joined the group to argue against the provision.

"Please stop allowing the use of wet ash handling at the older units at Oak Creek. This releases coal ash toxins linked to cancer, neurological damage and problems in children's development," a resident said.

"We appreciate the public engagement for something like this, but people should understand what this variance would allow us to do is no different from what other wastewater treatment plants across Lake Michigan in our area are doing. We would actually be at or below what other wastewater treatment plants are currently, as far as mercury, and I think the other thing that’s important to point out is this 4.1 parts per trillion is not a level we would be at all the time, so the variance allows it to be as high, but 99 percent of the time we would be below that level, and oftentimes, a lot below that level. So this is not an imminent public health thing, but we’ve also talked to the DNR about this permit. We’re gonna work to mitigate this and we have a pollution minimization program that’s part of this, so we agree that it’s important to continue to find ways to lower the  amount of mercury, and again, we’re not asking for anything different than other people in our region along Lake Michigan currently doing and even have higher levels of mercury in their water," said Brendan Conway, spokesman for We Energies.

According to the EPA, the most common way people are exposed to mercury is through eating fish from water with high mercury levels.

We Energies officials said the mercury releases aren't expected to occur frequently.