The EPA Brings Back Mercury Pollution Rule After NRDC Sues

In response to an NRDC lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restored a rule to protect the public from mercury pollution.

In December 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule to protect Americans from the five tons of mercury—a dangerous neurotoxin—that dental offices dispose of into the water every year. But on President Trump’s first day of office, the White House directed the agency to withdraw the rule, along with all other rules that were final but not yet published in the Federal Register. It turns out the rollback was illegal—the EPA is required to give the public adequate notice and the opportunity to comment—so NRDC immediately sued. Late last week, the EPA reinstated the protection.

“The EPA is taking an important step toward safeguarding Americans from a dangerous neurotoxin,” said Margaret Hsieh, an attorney on NRDC’s litigation team. “The agency decided to reissue the rule instead of defending in court the decision to withdraw it.  Protecting the public—and not responding to a lawsuit—should have been motivation enough for this sensible action.”

Mercury can disrupt brain function and damage the nervous system. It is especially harmful to pregnant women, babies, and young children, even at low levels of exposure—the EPA itself estimates that more than 75,000 babies are born each year with increased risk for learning disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to mercury pollution.

In addition to power plant emissions, mercury enters our waterways when dentists wash amalgam cavity fillings down the drain. The burden currently falls on wastewater treatment plants to remove the mercury, but that process is highly inefficient. The Mercury Effluent Rule requires dental offices remove the mercury instead, a process that can be accomplished easily with low-cost and readily available equipment.

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