Even though the federal government has worked to limit mercury discharges into the Great Lakes, the BP refinery in northwest Indiana will be allowed to continue pouring the toxic metal into Lake Michigan for another five years.
According to the Chicago Tribune, BP's new state water permit gives the oil company until 2012 to meet strict federal limits on mercury discharges. Officials predict that the refinery will not meet the deadline and request to continue the dumping after 2012.
Federal records have shown that BP puts 2 pounds of mercury into the lake every year. When mercury builds up, even tiny drops can harm fish or even people.
The BP refinery and a power plant in Chesterton, Ind., are the only two plants that dump mercury directly into Lake Michigan.
Chicago Tribune reports that company officials and Indiana regulators claim that the refinery's wastewater poses no threat to people or aquatic life, and they are doing their best to decrease pollution.
BP also claims that no municipal sewage treatment plant has the ability to meet the strict federal limit of 1.3 parts mercury per trillion parts water for discharges into the Great Lakes.
The EPA's Toxics Release Inventory shows that the plant is the number one industrial source of lead, nickel and ammonia pollution directly released into the lake. The BP refinery is also one of two polluters that dump acetonitrile, a chemical that metabolizes in the environment to cyanide.
Chicago Tribune reports that if BP were to meet the federal mercury standard for the Great Lakes, it would take the refinery 25 years to put the same amount of the toxic metal into Lake Michigan that it does now in only one year.
All of the states along the Great Lakes have advised residents to limit eating certain types of fish because of high levels of mercury contamination. Consumption of even small amounts of mercury can damage the developing brain and nervous system of infants and young children.