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'Mass Destruction' on American Soil: Graphic TV Ads Confront White House, Big Power Companies Over Toxic Mercury and Other Dangerous Chemicals

Dirty Power Plants Bring Lethal Health Risk to Communities Across America; Spots Air as Administration Attempts Rollback of Air Pollution Safety Rules

WASHINGTON (June 24, 2003) -- The camera flies low over a computer-enhanced landscape, zooming in on high-resolution satellite images of a sprawling industrial complex. A voice describes a potent threat right here on American soil: Toxic mercury in our water; invisible poisons released in the air. And our government isn't stopping it. Terrorism? No. Just business as usual for hundreds of electric company power plants located in communities across America.

And the problem will get much worse under a bill introduced by the Bush administration and backed by big power companies that would roll back health and safety standards now required by the Clean Air Act.

A hard-hitting new television ad by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) uses cutting-edge graphics to spotlight a deadly hazard in our own backyard. Mercury from power plant smokestacks puts countless infants and children at risk for brain damage, while other lethal emissions cause asthma, emphysema and cardiovascular illnesses. Carbon dioxide pollution causes global warming, posing worldwide health and environmental risks. The spots begin airing today in Washington, D.C. and other markets including the headquarters of the country's largest power plant polluters.

Click here to view the 'Mass Destruction' ad.

-- TV Broadcasters Call for Satellite Coordinates --

"Poisonous emissions from power plants harm thousands of Americans every day with asthma, heart attacks and strokes, and every day some of those people die. One-in-12 American women of childbearing age has unsafe levels of mercury in her body. On top of all that, global warming pollution brings a whole new level of health and environmental risk," said Dan Lashof, Science Director of the NRDC Climate Center. "Power plants aren't weapons, but they are causing mass destruction."

The technology exists to reduce dangerous power plant emissions dramatically. But serious cleanup won't happen without firm rules. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have proposed tough standards to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the bill introduced by the Bush administration with strong industry support will actually weaken standards, increasing emissions compared to current law. The White House plan is expected to meet strong resistance as lawmakers square off over competing bills this summer.

"Solutions exist right now, but most companies are ignoring them. The Bush administration is putting big power company profits over our health and safety," Lashof said. "The White House plan allows twice as much sulfur dioxide and three times the mercury emissions than if we simply enforced the Clean Air Act as it exists right now, and it ignores global warming pollution altogether. Americans deserve better than that."

To start reducing toxic chemical pollution from power plants, NRDC supports the bi-partisan Clean Power Act, sponsored by Senators James Jeffords (I-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT). The bill sets safe, sensible limits on mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and limits carbon dioxide emissions for the first time.

Trouble in the Air

Chemicals coming from power plants -- mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide -- harm thousands of Americans every day. Global warming multiplies the deadly effects of other air pollution, and brings health and environmental problems of its own.

Mercury damages the brains and nervous systems of children, and can harm adult cardiovascular and immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control says nearly 5 million women of childbearing age have unsafe mercury levels in their bodies, putting more than 320,000 newborns at risk of neurological impairment. Forty-five states issued mercury advisories in 2002, up from 27 states in 1993.

Sulfur dioxide is particularly lethal. It creates fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs where they can enter the cardiovascular system, causing heart attacks, strokes and thousands of premature deaths each year researchers say. A study of 86 U.S. cities found a 10 percent increase in infant mortality in newborns who spend their first two months in communities with high particulate levels.

Nitrogen oxide causes smog, which is associated with asthma attacks and reduced lung function. A recent study also indicates that ozone exposure may even cause asthma in the first place. Smog is responsible for the original "red alert" days warning at-risk children and adults against outdoor activities on hot, polluted summer days.

Power plants generate 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution, which forms an invisible, heat-trapping layer in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Hotter temperatures compound respiratory and cardiac problems from other emissions, and bring health and environmental threats all their own.

More than 175 million Americans live and work in places with dangerous concentrations of fine particles and smog. Thirty-five million children live within 30 miles of one or more power plants; an estimated two million of them are asthmatic.

National Solutions for a National Problem

The ads will run in key media markets around the U.S., taking aim at a nationwide problem. They are not intended to single out particular local companies. In fact, the dangerous emissions affecting people in any given location come from a mix of local and "upwind" sources in other states. That is one reason NRDC is calling for tough national standards combined with strong safeguards for local communities.

Some power companies have demonstrated leadership by investing in cleaner generating technology, committing to cleaner air as a core business strategy. A growing handful of such companies support stronger pollution standards because they think it makes sense to resolve the problem now, instead of waiting. But the official industry lobby group, Edison Electric Institute, is pressing for even weaker mercury standards than the administration proposal and fighting limits on global warming pollution.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
The Bush Administration's Air Pollution Plan

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