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In Attempt To Shut Down Coal Plant, Alex. Residents Test For Mercury

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Ernie Lehmann gets his hair snipped so it can be tested for mercury levels. He's part of a group trying to shut down a coal plant in Alexandria.
Jessica Gould
Ernie Lehmann gets his hair snipped so it can be tested for mercury levels. He's part of a group trying to shut down a coal plant in Alexandria.

At BellaWest Hair Salon in Old Town Alexandria -- which bills itself as an eco-friendly salon -- a stylist snips off a lock of Ernie Lehmann's snow-white hair.

"I want to have it tested for mercury," he says.

Lehmann isn't trying to update his look. He's trying to protect his health -- and the health of his grandchildren.

"The ingestion of mercury has a terribly deleterious effect on their nervous systems," he says. "They're bright kids. I want them to stay bright."

For years, Alexandria residents have lobbied against the plant, formerly known as Mirant, in North Old Town. They argue it releases toxins, including mercury, into the air.

"I often notice it when I bike to work," says Seth Heald, a volunteer with the Sierra Club. "You can often taste it on your tongue as you're coming by breathing a little hard from biking."

In a statement, GenOn spokesperson Misty Allen says the power plant fully complies with federal and state environmental standards. The company has also invested approximately $84 million dollars in environmental controls, including a $34 million agreement with the City of Alexandria to make air quality improvements, says Allen.

The results of the mercury hair tests will take about a month to process.

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