LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – The director of the state Division of Air Quality says Kentucky could be the first state in the southeast to regulate the amount of mercury that goes into the air from coal-fired power plants under new regulations to be considered soon.

John Lyons told the Lexington Herald-Leader that several states already regulate mercury and Kentucky needs to follow their lead. He says the courts have thrown out federal regulations proposed by the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and developing new ones could be a lengthy process. Kentucky had planned to follow the federal lead, but now knows it must act on its own.

“We obviously have public health concerns, with the fish advisories and all,” Lyons said.

Kentucky’s situation was brought to the fore in 2000 when a statewide advisory was issued warning people, especially women of child-bearing age and children, to limit how much fish they ate that were caught in Kentucky waters. Mercury put into the air from power plants and other sources ends up in rivers and lakes and accumulates in the tissue of fish, said John Brumley of the Kentucky Division of Water.

He says mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, especially harmful to children and fetuses.

In September, the state elevated it’s fish advisory for Lake Cumberland because tests found higher concentrations of mercury in fish there. The 38,000-acre lake in south-central Kentucky is a popular fishing spot, drawing visitors from several states.

Brumley says the more-stringent advisory for Lake Cumberland could become the statewide standard because higher levels of mercury are showing up in fish everywhere. Mercury gets into the environment from many sources, some of them naturally occurring, Brumley added, but power plants are a major source.

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