MADISON β€” Clean Wisconsin and state residents voiced their support today for a strong mercury reductions rule at a public hearing held by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Attendees at the meeting discussed a proposal that would require coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by following one of two paths. Operators of coal-fired power plants could choose between reducing mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015 or could extend that deadline until 2021 by agreeing to more stringent limits on nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which increase the methylization of mercury, making it more toxic to people, fish and wildlife.

“We’re glad the DNR is seriously addressing this critically important issue,” Keith Reopelle, Program Director at Clean Wisconsin, said. “While the proposal represents a step in the right direction, the technology already exists to reduce mercury emissions and the plan must be strengthened to push utilities to reduce mercury pollution sooner,” he said.

Mercury pollution represents a serious threat to the public health of Wisconsin. Evidence suggests that chronic exposure to mercury results in memory loss, speech difficulties, troubles with vision, and cardiovascular problems in adults. Children and the unborn exposed to mercury can face neurological damage that impairs development, leads to low intelligence and inhibits school performance. People are generally exposed to mercury by eating fish that live in polluted lakes, rivers and streams.

“Mercury pollution not only threatens the pubic health of Wisconsin, it threatens our way of life,” Reopelle said. “Fishing has been a celebrated Wisconsin tradition for hundreds of years, but now that tradition is at risk because of mercury emissions,” he said.

The extent of mercury pollution in Wisconsin has led the Department of Natural Resources to list every inland body of water under a fish consumption advisory. The Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services estimates that 13 percent of Wisconsin adults exceed the exposure guideline for methylmercury, the most toxic form of the heavy metal. While mercury pollution comes from a variety of sources, coal-fired power plants represent Wisconsin’s largest source of mercury pollution.

DNR officials will consider the sentiments voiced at the public hearing today and will make a decision regarding the proposed rule at a Natural Resources Board meeting scheduled for late May.