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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Mercury at Bottom of Central Park Lake Linked to Coal Burning in NYC

August 3, 2001

Mercury at Bottom of Central Park Lake Linked to Coal Burning in NYC

Troy, N.Y. — While the debate rages over the future of the nation’s energy resources, including the potential increase in the number of coal-burning power plants, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have linked coal plant emissions to toxic levels of mercury.

Their study shows that the level of mercury in sediment at the bottom of New York’s Central Park Lake is at least 10 times the amount found in some industrial areas.

“The atmospheric input of mercury to the sediments is the highest I have ever seen. We know mercury is toxic, and we know it accumulates over time. The question is, is this acceptable?” said Richard Bopp, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Rensselaer and a leading authority on PCBs and other pollutants in the Hudson River, New York Harbor, and elsewhere.

Bopp’s findings are especially significant in light of this year’s power shortages in California and the ensuing controversy over coal-burning power plants. A recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicted that the emission of hazardous air pollutants by coal-fired utilities would increase 10 percent to 30 percent by the year 2010.

Bopp’s team studied core samples of lake sediment dating back to the 1860s. After consulting historical records of coal consumption in the city, Bopp concluded that domestic coal-fired stoves and furnaces, industrial fuel use, and coal-burning power plants left much of the toxic residue.

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Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.