Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to weaken rules regulating both deadly fine particulate matter and toxic mercury air pollution. Knowing that these rules are strongly opposed by the nation’s public health and environmental advocates, the Bush Administration is attempting to legitimize its proposals by conducting three public hearings on February 25th and 26th in just three cities across the nation.
There are two types of pollutants that would be affected by these proposed changes. First are small particles emitted from smokestacks, which lodge deeply in our lungs and cause unnecessary asthma attacks, lung cancer and premature deaths. These concerns prompted the EPA to propose rules in 2001 that would significantly reduce these pollutants. According to Appalachian Voices’ clean air partner Clear the Air, EPA, bowing to pressure from Bush’s top campaign contributors in the energy industry, has abandoned its 2001 proposal in favor of a weaker rule that will cause 2 million preventable asthma attacks and 100,000 avoidable premature deaths by 2020.
Mercury emissions will also be affected by this proposal. Mercury, after it has been emitted from smokestacks and settles in our waterways, is converted to a highly toxic compound called methylmercury by bacteria. Methylmercury then concentrates in the bodies of fish as it moves up the food chain. Species of fish that humans eat, such as king mackerel, bowfin, pike, bass, shark and swordfish may contain concentrations of methlymercury 1 to 10 million times greater than the surrounding waters.
Unborn children are at risk for brain damage, birth defects and learning disabilities when their mothers consume mercury-contaminated fish. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 8% of women of child-bearing years have mercury levels in their bodies higher than levels considered safe by EPA. Furthermore, some 300,000 newborns are placed in harms way annually. Others at risk from mercury poisoning include women of child-bearing years and subsistence fishers, including Native Americans, who consume large amounts of fish each year.
Clear the Air reports that EPA will ignore previous determinations that mercury could and should be reduced by 90% by 2008. Instead, EPA is proposing a mercury control strategy that allows 5-6 more times mercury to be emitted for a decade longer. This is of particular concern in the Southeast where, according to EPA’s most recently published data, seven of the fifteen worst states for mercury air emissions are located (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia–accounting for 25% of the U.S. total).
What you can do: Please join Appalachian Voices and our clean air partners from across the country to testify for meaningful clean air regulations on February 25th and 26th at Research Triangle Park, NC. Based on public interest and resources, Appalachian Voices will try to provide vanpool transportation from key cities in the region to the hearing in North Carolina. For more information on the hearings, please call Scott Gollwitzer at (828)225-9685.
For those unable to attend, please visit our website at www.appvoices.org to see what you can do to prevent these rollbacks in our nation’s air pollution laws. For more information on the impacts of toxic air pollutants, visit our clean air partners, Clear the Air, at https://cta.policy.net.