NRDC Applauds EPA for Acknowledging Mercury Air Pollution Threat

Group Urges Agency To Move Swiftly to Reduce Toxic Emissions by Power Plants

WASHINGTON (December 14, 2000) - The Natural Resources Defense Council welcomed today’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency that it will address the threat posed by toxic mercury pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. EPA now will evaluate control technologies and assess how much mercury will have to be removed to safeguard public health and the environment.

"We urge EPA to take swift action to clean up the problem" says David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Air and Energy Program. "These power plants are the largest uncontrolled industrial sources of mercury raining down on lakes and streams across the country. They emit more than 50 tons of mercury annually without any controls whatsoever."

The agency’s announcement resulted from a settlement of an NRDC lawsuit over hazardous power plant pollution (Natural Resources Defense Council v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., No. 92-1415 (D.C. Circuit). Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, but utilities have been vigorously fighting EPA’s efforts to reduce mercury emissions.

After leaving power plant smokestacks, mercury is converted by bacteria in lakes and streams into methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in the fatty tissue of fish and is then consumed by humans. Nationwide, 41 states have issued mercury consumption advisories, cautioning residents to limit their consumption of fish from lakes and streams.

Methylmercury is particularly dangerous for children. Exposure to methylmercury in utero or in early childhood can result in permanent neurological damage. According to a recent National Academy of Sciences report, some 60,000 children born each year in the United States are at risk from exposure to mercury.