Coal power plants have to report annual mercury emissions to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register if emitting more than 10 kg per year ("E-PRTR"). The study assesses mercury emissions reported by 16 lignite power plants and 37 hard coal power plants in Germany reporting between 10.9 kg and 667 kg of mercury to the Register in 2013, in total 5 tons. Together with mercury emissions of power plants without reporting duty, the energy sector in Germany emits 7 tons of mercury per year ("UBA 2015"). This amount equals the annual release of all mercury contained in 3.5 billion fluorescent bulbs. While other sectors have reduced significantly their mercury emissions in the past 20 years, the release of the energy sector has remained constantly at around 7 tons. It contributes currently with 70 % to the total mercury emission of Germany. As a consequence, Germany occupies the sad first place in Europe with 10 tons of total mercury emission per year, together with Poland and Greece.
Content and result of the study
The study calculates the emission concentration of each of the largest power plants in 2013. It compares the performance with the emission levels that are achieved with best available techniques. In June 2015, the EU has ascertained that emission levels below 1 micogram per cubic meter are achievable with mercury-specific control techniques. For hard coal power plants, this emission level is required in the USA since April 2015. In Germany, in most cases emission levels are three to eight times higher, in some cases up to 20 times higher. Only from 2019 on, Germany requires an emission level of below 10 microgram per cubic meter. This emission limit is 2.5 times higher than the US limit for lignite power plants and 6.7 times higher than the US limit for hard coal power plants. For a significant mercury reduction the future emission limit is ineffective.
The study shows that 85 % of the mercury emissions from Germany’s coal power plants can be avoided if mercury-specific control techniques are applied. In the 50 largest coal power plants, this would lead to a reduction of 4.2 tons of mercury per year. The technical measures could be realized in a short time and without high investment costs.
Mercury emissions from coal power plants and from gold mining lead to increasing environmental impacts worldwide. In particular in fish, increasing levels of extremely high toxic methyl mercury are found: food emission limits are exceeded more and more frequently, e.g. in sword fish, tuna, eel and other predatory fish at the end of the food chain.
Methyl mercury causes damage during brain development of unborn and growing up children, resulting in loss of intelligence. Also in adults, methyl mercury accumulates in the brain, harming the nervous system. The mutagenic effect of methyl mercury is proven. Furthermore, methyl mercury is suspected to cause cancer.