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Mercury in the environment


and what about mercury in vaccines?

Posted on Tue, Mar. 02, 2004
Mercury: Enough!
White House shouldn't delay controls on toxic pollutant
Source: Charlotte Observer

Here's a puzzler: If the Environmental Protection Agency advises the public not to eat certain fish because of high concentrations of mercury, why is the White House proposing to delay tighter controls on airborne mercury emissions? Much of the mercury in the water, after all, comes from polluted air. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if mercury is so harmful that the Centers for Disease Control estimates 8 percent of women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of mercury, why would the Bush administration allow some smokestack industries to pump excessive amounts into the air?

The answer, we're sorry to say, is that the administration is once again falling for the pollution-credits gimmick. That plan would set a national cap on certain pollutants, create a market for polluters to buy the right to emit excessive amounts and in effect give the dirtiest plants the legal right to keep on polluting. Just hope you don't live near one of those plants or consume fish from waters polluted with mercury from those plants.

Unfortunately for many North Carolinians, many of our waterways already bear excessive mercury pollution. Health experts estimate that 7,400 at-risk babies are born each year because of their mothers' exposure to mercury. That's frightening -- but there is good news: This state's new Clean Smokestacks Act, approved two years ago to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions, will also significantly reduce mercury emissions from power plants inside this state.

Nationally, however, excessive mercury emissions could continue for up to a decade longer than anticipated. Under the Clean Air Act, mercury emissions were to be reduced significantly by 2008. The EPA had been expected to propose controls at all power plants. Instead, it proposes reducing mercury by about 70 percent by 2018 and introducing a pollution-credits trading market that would allow cleaner plants to sell, in effect, the right to pollute to dirtier plants.

Such trading schemes have been shown to help industries achieve pollution reductions nationally. But they also allow certain plants to emit pollutants that endanger public health in their home area as well as downwind areas. A toxicologist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told those at an EPA hearing last week that the pollution-trading program could make things worse in this state.

North Carolina surface waters and rainwater in some places already have five times the safe level of mercury. Pollution credits would lead to further airborne pollution and could force the state to increase the number of fish species (now seven) not to be eaten because of excessive mercury.

The Bush administration's environmental record has been exceptionally bad, but caving in on mercury pollution is appalling. Given that mercury is such a severe threat to infants, it's hypocritical for the White House to pretend to stand up for family values at a time when it's doing so little to protect families from the long-term effects of this toxic substance. Good health is, after all, an important family value. The EPA should scrap this pointless plan and adopt effective mercury controls across the board.

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