Friday, April 11, 2014

Mercury Emissions Controls: Worth It?

During our Science Focus Area discussion dinner last night the subject of the effectiveness of installing mercury emissions control technology in coal-fired plants came up. It seemed to me that it may not be worth the US unilaterally spending billions to clean up its coal if the result is only global, i.e., a small worldwide reduction in mercury levels, with no other countries following suit. But in fact it appears that, although mercury is a global problem,  regional mercury action has regional, rather than global,  effects. Installing the clean coal technology has been estimated to reduce the mercury levels in the US by about 50% at a cost of $16 per household per year on average. That seems worthwhile to me. A computerized nationwide referendum would allow the question to be quickly asked of the whole country.


  1. Cost benefit analyses are often unsatisfactory in that both costs and benefits may be unrecognised. Removing lead from petrol (gasoline) has perhaps had the wholly unexpected benefit of reducing crime levels Mercury is an equally pernicious poison. Sometimes it is a good idea simply to act altruistically, and in this case local benefits appear probable.

  2. Good point, Halina. We need to be sure about the real effects of our actions, though…..