President Obama and EPA protect public health, announce landmark mercury standard for power plants

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Ben Wright

Environment Massachusetts

Boston, MA – Just in time for the holidays, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued new public health standards to protect everyone from emissions of mercury and other toxics from the nation’s dirtiest power plants.  

“This holiday season kids across the country received a great gift – the promise of cleaner and safer air to breathe,” said Anika James, Field Associate with Environment Massachusetts.  “Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will implement new public health safeguards to protect children and all Americans from the dangerous effects of air polluted with mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other dirty and deadly pollutants.”

The standards set reasonable limits on the emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other toxics from dirty power plants, and come as nearly every other industrial sector has taken the necessary steps to reduce the presence of these poisons. Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel industries, heavy manufacturers—all of them have been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years. 

“The Environmental Protection Agency mercury rule is a major victory for sportsmen who have worked so hard to address the devastating effects that mercury pollution is having on wildlife habitats and human health here in Massachusetts,” said Carol Oldham with the National Wildlife Federation.

“It’s time for the power plants to clean up their act,” said Drew Grande, organizer with the Sierra Club. “This industry has dodged air toxic rules for decades, and American families are paying the price.”

Mayors from across Massachusetts together with state, regional and national environmental, public health and minority advocacy organizations applauded the EPA today after years of calling for stronger safeguards on toxic mercury pollution.

A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that between 316,000 and 647,000 American babies are born each year with mercury levels high enough to cause measurable brain damage.  Coal-fired power plants supplying electricity to the grid are the biggest emitters of airborne mercury among all industrial sources. Emissions from coal burning power plants accounts for nearly 70 percent of the mercury Americans are exposed to every day.  Mercury is associated with damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, and nervous system, and can cause birth defects.

Power plants oppose the rules and claim they will cause power shortages and power service interruptions.  However, the U. S. Department of Energy just released a report on the mercury and air toxic standards: “Our review, combined with several other studies, demonstrate that new EPA rules … should not create resource adequacy issues,” said Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Energy Department David Sandalow.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than half of all coal-fired power plants already use the pollution control technologies required to meet the new standards.