Press Release | December 21, 2011

First air standards slash levels of mercury and other toxins

EPA today provided long overdue and vitally important health protections for American families and children by issuing standards for toxic air pollution from power plants, said the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility in the case that led to the court order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to end more than a decade of delay on requiring coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce their toxic mercury emissions.

“As the largest unregulated sources of mercury and dozens of other highly toxic air pollutants, coal-fired power plants endanger the health and well-being of children and pregnant women every day,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The national standards EPA announced today establish sensible, achievable health protections for all Americans. These standards are a huge victory for families and children as they will slash levels of mercury and other toxic air pollution that disproportionately harm kids.”

Power plants are the nation’s largest unregulated source of mercury pollution, and unnecessarily emit enormous quantities of lead, arsenic and other highly toxic chemicals.

On November 8, 2011, Dow Jones reported that Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy called the new air pollution standards for coal-fired power plants within the proposed timeline “tight but achievable.” Mr. Rogers’s statement corroborates EPA’s own findings.

EPA has reported that using available and affordable “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) for power plants will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually.

Children and women of childbearing age are at particular risk from excessive power plant mercury pollution. All 50 states, and one U.S. territory, have declared fish advisories warning people about mercury contamination.

Mercury puts children at risk for impaired brain function, neurological problems, and reduced IQ. Hundreds of thousands of American children born every year are at risk of developmental damage because of elevated mercury levels in their mothers’ bodies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight percent of American women of childbearing age have mercury in their bodies at levels high enough to put their babies at risk of birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and developmental problems.

Approximately 1,350 coal-fired units at more than 525 existing power plants spew some 70,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year. Much of the mercury and other metals in the air toxics plume fall within 100 miles of the power plant source, and mercury accumulates up the food chain in fish and in the animals that consume it. In addition to human health effects, significant adverse effects on wildlife also have been linked to power plant mercury.

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Press Contacts

John Suttles

Deputy Director

Phone: 919-967-1450