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Source: The Buffalo News

Long-needed rules will help protect against mercury


Posted: July 25, 2011
Originally Published: July 23, 2011

After decades of spoiling our waterways and harming public health, unchecked mercury pollution from oil and coal power plants may finally be coming to an end. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first national standards to slash mercury and other toxic emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants.

The proposed toxics rule would require power plant operators to install equipment to reduce mercury emissions 91 percent in just four years. The reduction in mercury pollution and other toxic pollutants will undoubtedly provide tremendous benefits to public health, wildlife and our environment. According to the EPA, for every dollar spent on reducing toxic pollution, Americans will save between $5 and $13 in health costs.

Nationwide, hundreds of coal and oil power plants have not installed adequate pollution control equipment, despite the fact that this technology is widely available and proven effective. Fossil-fuel burning power plants are the largest contributors to mercury pollution in the United States.

Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that reacts with water to create a dangerous compound with a bio-accumulative property, meaning that is absorbed by live tissue and never fully leaves the body. This “methylmercury” works its way up the food chain until it is ultimately consumed by humans.

Current EPA estimates show that more than 300,000 newborns in the United States are born with unsafe levels of mercury in their system every year. Mercury is a neurotoxin, adversely impacting our children’s ability to walk, talk and learn. In addition, the EPA’s proposed rule will significantly reduce emissions of arsenic, chromium, and nickel, which are suspected or known to cause cancer and other serious diseases.

Despite the fact that it is not disputed in the international scientific community that toxic mercury and these other heavy metals harm our children, wildlife and the public, the fossil-fuel burning industry continues to aggressively fight common sense regulations to protect health and our environment.

New York is adversely impacted by Midwestern power plants that have yet to upgrade. Their emissions are deposited in our lakes, estuaries, rivers and lands. In New York, 63 bodies of water are under a fish consumption advisory because of mercury.

The fossil-fuel industry has fought similar controls on acid rain since the federal government began regulating acid rain pollutants in 1990. Industry claims of exorbitant costs, disruptions in the flow of energy and massive job losses have gone unfounded.

Industry continues to use the same old tired and false mantra of pitting jobs against the environment. In fact, federal efforts to fight acid rain are being implemented cost effectively while providing cleaner air, bringing many lakes back to life, and benefiting wildlife and local economies.

Adrienne Esposito is executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale