Mercury Dangers Downplayed in Favor of Power Industry.
An interim study released last week by researchers at the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Asheville, has found that one-fifth of women of childbearing age have mercury levels in their hair that exceed federal health standards.
Clean air protections suffered a substantial setback when the administration delayed a previously scheduled mercury clean-up by 10 years. It also suppressed data on how American women and their unborn children were being harmed by mercury exposure, and granted unprecedented influence to the coal and oil-fired power plants responsible for mercury pollution.
Under the Clean Air Act, utilities would have been required to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent over four years. Instead, the Bush administration proposed scaling back and delaying the clean-up to allow utilities to cut emissions by just 70 percent over 14 years.
The administration's plan also allows higher polluting companies to purchase credits from those that operate in a cleaner fashion. Environmental experts argue that such a plan will cause disproportionate harm to the people who live in proximity to the dirtier plants.
Environmentalists have noted that 25 mercury-emitting utilities would benefit by sharing in $2.7 billion in savings created by the weaker rules. An earlier report by the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that the administration allowed industry lawyers to write much of the language for the new rules.
There are serious health implications to the delay in reducing mercury emissions. An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that 8 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 49 already have blood mercury levels high enough to cause damage to their unborn children.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000 determined that about 12 percent of women of childbearing age had mercury levels above the EPA standard.
Mercury is known to cause learning and developmental disorders as a result of prenatal exposure. The EPA report was suppressed by the agency until leaked by an insider to the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year, the EPA announced that 630,000 American newborns were at risk of having unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.
A recent report by the League of Conservation Voters found that 18 million Americans (including 1.5 million children) in the country's 12 top-emitting states live within 10 miles of a coal-fired power plant and are thereby exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution.
"Children today and for generations to come will suffer needlessly as a result of the administration's environmental policies," said former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, in a press release announcing the LCV study.