WASHINGTON (December 21, 2012) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-overdue health protections against mercury, toxic metals, acid gases and other harmful pollution emitted by industrial boilers and incinerators present a mixed blessing. The standards will save thousands of lives every year, but the earlier provisions affecting cement manufacturers and incinerators have been loosened, and that is going in the wrong direction.
“These standards are a mixed bag. Americans will breathe cleaner air thanks to the EPA reducing dangerous pollution from thousands of local boilers in communities across the country,” said John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program. “This will save more than 8,000 lives every year, an important public health achievement and better than previous standards had promised. The agency, however, eased standards in their final rules for cement manufacturers, which is troubling and deserves further explanation.”
Nearly 40 million Americans live within three miles of industrial boilers or incinerators that emit harmful pollution such as mercury and toxic metals. Mercury, for instance, is a neurotoxin that affects brain development of children and the unborn. Other pollution from these facilities causes a range of other harmful health impacts.
The EPA’s final safeguards for boiler emissions are estimated to prevent up to 8,100 premature deaths annually, which is 1,600 more lives saved than previous standards the agency considered. In addition, reducing the mercury, toxic metals and other harmful emissions will annually prevent about 5,000 heart attacks, more than 50,000 asthma attacks and close to a half million missed days of work due to illness.