Bush Administration's Lax Approach To Curbing Mercury Pollution Threatens Public Health, Says NRDC

WASHINGTON (February 28, 2005) -- A study released today by Mt. Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment is the latest evidence that the Bush administration's mercury policy -- especially its approach to power plant pollution -- is woefully inadequate to address the threat mercury poses to public health, said experts from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The study puts a dollar value on the economic costs of impaired brain development from mercury poisoning. The report calculated that the United States loses $8.7 billion annually in productivity, of which $1.3 billion is directly attributable to mercury emissions from U.S. power plants. (To download the study, click here.)

"Failing to clean up mercury pollution sentences our children to a life of lost opportunities," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at NRDC. "President Bush says he wants to leave no child behind, but his administration's policy on mercury leaves hundreds of thousands of our children behind."

The Mt. Sinai researchers based their calculations on mercury exposure data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on studies that link elevated mercury levels with IQ loss. The study reports that approximately 300,000 to 600,000 children each year are born with mercury in their blood at levels associated with a loss of IQ.

While these statistics are staggering in themselves, the health and societal costs are likely to be much larger, said Dr. Sass. "The Mt. Sinai study limited its calculations to the costs associated with loss of intelligence only," she said. "There also are data from Europe suggesting that mercury poisoning is associated with increases in deaths from heart disease, which is the top killer in the United States."

In light of the health threat posed by mercury pollution, the Bush administration's weak plan to control power plant mercury pollution is "inexcusable," she said. This week a Senate committee is slated to consider the administration's power plant pollution bill, which would allow power plants to cut less mercury pollution than the Clean Air Act requires (for more information, click here). Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general recently reported that the agency's senior management ordered agency experts to develop weak mercury cleanup standards for coal-fired power plants (for more information, click here).

Power plants are not the only mercury pollution source for which the administration has failed to take strong action. Although chlorine manufacturers using an outdated mercury technology cannot account for the loss of dozens of tons of mercury they collectively use annually, the EPA has yet to address the problem, which it has called an "enigma" (for more information, click here). Likewise, the administration blocked progress in controlling mercury use and pollution around the world at a recent UN conference (for more information, click here).