A Long Awaited Victory for Children, Families and our Future

kids in sandbox

Today, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the adoption of historic safeguards against mercury and other toxic air pollution which will help to protect our children from increased risk of brain damage, cerebral palsy and other neuro-developmental problems. The Mercury and Air Toxics standard, or MATR is a major new measure to protect kids and families from mercury, toxics and other pollution from power plants.

Among the most dangerous of these pollutants is mercury, a neurotoxin that damages the developing brains and nervous systems of fetuses and young children. Mercury exposure can lead to delayed developmental milestones, delayed speech and other language problems, reduced IQ, problems with motor skills, and a laundry list of other health issues.

As the mother of two young children, I truly am grateful for this important action. Nothing could be more devastating to a family than a child with preventable brain damage.  Luckily, not only have EPA and the President taken decisive action to protect our kids, they have also helped to prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and serious respiratory illnesses, thus saving struggling families enormous health care costs, work days lost and much suffering.

This historic rule will benefit our nation as a whole and Latino families everywhere preventing the harmful effects of these pollutants, such as respiratory diseases, developmental problems and heart attacks in our communities. With 39 percent of Latinos living within 30 miles of a power plant, the rules are a critically needed and welcome safeguard.

This rule protects our health while also creating thousands of jobs from the manufacturing, engineering, installation and maintenance of pollution controls to meet these standards, potentially including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs. This is an important move to protect the public health while ensuring a brighter future for our communities.

With all of these harmful health effects, it’s hard to believe that it’s taken us a decade to get these protections in place. Still, even at the last minute, attacks on this long-overdue rule have shockingly been supported by some republicans in congress. Of them I have to ask, exactly what level of developmental delay do they find to be acceptable for their children or grandchildren that justifies opposing these important protections?

Each year this new rule will prevent 11,000 thousand of premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 cases of childhood asthma and 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis while preventing mercury exposure to children that can adversely affect their developing brains – including effect on their ability to walk, talk, read and learn.

This rule and these cost-savings are especially important to the Latino community because according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Latino children have higher levels of mercury in their bodies compared with non-Hispanic white children. 

Voces Verdes and numerous Latino organizations have expressed their gratitude for this important rule in a letter to President Obama thanking the administration, and specifically EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson.

Rafael Fantauzzi, President of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc. (NPRC) and Chair of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC) said:

“[This rule] an important step towards ensuring a safer, healthier future for our children by announcing a new strong standard for mercury and air toxics. NLCCC member organizations represent many Latino families who live near power plants that spew dangerous toxics into the air we breathe. Mercury is one of the leading causes of preventable birth defects in children like brain damage, cerebral palsy and other developmental problems. We [must]...let this important rule stay in place to protect our children.”

There are about 1,350 coal- and oil-fired units at 525 power plants across the country. These are the largest industrial sources of mercury in the United States and emit approximately 80 toxic pollutants in all, such as arsenic, lead and other heavy metals as well as acid gases.  They not only poison the air we breathe but also pollute our lakes, rivers and streams—and the fish we eat from those bodies of water. So even those of you who feel immune because a dirty power plant isn’t in your back yard may still be at risk if you decide to eat fish.

The bottom line is, no matter who you are or where you live, we cannot continue to sacrifice the health of our families and communities to protect polluters from overblown claims that they are not ready to clean up their operations. They have had a full decade to comply. If they’re not ready, that’s their fault. Our kids shouldn’t have to pay for their lack of proper planning and disregard for the public’s health.   

Truly protective standards for mercury and other air toxics will reduce mercury emissions from power plants and help children across the country to avoid preventable birth defects and learning delays and have a brighter, healthier, more productive future.