Health Water

EPA illegally rolls back protections on mercury pollution

In the wake of the White House’s freeze of all regulatory processes last week, the EPA has rescinded its Mercury Effluent Rule, which was on its way to protecting the public from more than five tons of discharges of this neurotoxin each year. In response, NRDC has sued the agency for failing to give the public adequate notice and provide a comment period, which is legally required. Mercury, which can disrupt brain function and nervous system development, is especially harmful to pregnant women, babies, and young children. In a conservative estimate, the EPA itself says that more than 75,000 babies are born each year with increased risk for learning disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to mercury pollution in our waterways. In addition to power plant emissions, one way mercury gets into waterways is through amalgam cavity fillings washed down the drain at the dentist. Most of the country’s 130,000 dental offices still use or remove amalgam fillings. Under the rule, fewer than half of those would need to install equipment—at a cost of about $800 per office—to handle their mercury discharges. Because this rule imposes minimal burden, it has drawn widespread praise from dental providers, many of whom already comply under mandatory state programs. By violating the public’s right to give input in the rulemaking process, the Trump administration’s backtrack on mercury protections senselessly puts Americans at risk of exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin, which can do great harm in even tiny amounts. 

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