Tag Archives: Mercury

12/21/2011 Washington Post: Will the EPA’s mercury rule cause a wave of blackouts?

Will the EPA’s mercury rule cause a wave of blackouts? No.Posted by  at 08:45 AM ET, 12/21/2011: Later this afternoon, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is expected to roll out the agency’s new regulations on mercury and toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants. That raises some questions: Just how many plants will end up getting shuttered as a result of all of the EPA’s new air-pollution rules? And how much of a pain will this be?The main plant facility at the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz., which could be at risk of closure. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

It’s a hotly debated topic these days, with industry groups (and plenty of Republicans)predicting possible blackouts and economic havoc, while environmentalists have mostly been rolling their eyes. So, to help settle this debate, the AP’s Dina Cappiello recently surveyed 55 power-plant operators across the country. She found that as many as 68 coal-fired plants — up to 8 percent of the nation’s coal generation capacity — will shut down in the years ahead. (The Edison Electric Institute has estimated that up to 14 percent of coal capacity could be retired by 2022.) That’s no easy task. But, from the available evidence, it also won’t likely prove apocalyptic.

Cappiello’s survey found that the coal plants set to be mothballed are mostly ancient — the average age was 51 — and largely run without modern-day pollution controls, as many of them were grandfathered in under the Clean Air Act. What’s more, many of these plants were slated for retirement in the coming years regardless of what the EPA did, thanks to state air-quality rules, rising coal prices, and the influx of cheap natural gas. “In the AP’s survey,” she writes, “not a single plant operator said the EPA rules were solely to blame for a closure, although some said it left them with no other choice.”

Crucially, none of the operators contacted by the AP seemed to think that huge swaths of America were on the verge of losing power, as Jon Huntsman claimed. An official from the North American Reliability Corporation put it this way: “We know there will be some challenges. But we don’t think the lights are going to turn off because of this issue.” This jibes with an Edison Electric Institute study, as well as a Department of Energy study(which focused on worst-case scenarios), a study from M.J. Bradley & Associates, and the EPA’s own modeling (PDF). Utilities will manage to keep the power running, in part by switching to natural gas, as plenty of gas plants currently operate well below capacity.

At this point, there’s good reason to think that utilities can retire their oldest and dirtiest plants without crushing disruptions. It won’t be simple or cost-free — the EPA estimatesthat the mercury and air toxics rule alone will cost utilities at least $11 billion by 2016 to install scrubbers on their coal plants, and those costs will likely get passed on to households. On the flip side, the reduction in mercury is expected to prevent some 17,000 premature deaths per year and provide an estimated $59 billion to $140 billion in health benefits in 2016.


Mike Eisenfeld

New Mexico Energy Coordinator

San Juan Citizens Alliance

108 North Behrend, Suite I

Farmington, New Mexico 87401

office 505 325-6724

cell 505 360-8994


10/27/2011 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: Keystone conversation is 'awesome'

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson still offers some hope for a clean future. This from the Hill “Politico”. 10/27/2011 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: Keystone conversation is ‘awesome’ By Erica Martinson: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Thursday took an artful dodge when asked by a student activist about the Keystone XL pipeline, praising civic engagement and promising that the EPA will “do its job.” “People ask me all the time, ‘What about this whole issue?’ To me, it’s awesome; it’s awesome that we’re having this conversation in this country. This should be a moment where we’re having a big conversation,” she said.

But, Jackson added a cautionary note: “This is a pipeline that cuts our country literally in half.” Jackson addressed a Sierra Club meeting of national campus activists, most of whom are focused on shutting down coal-fired power plants on their campuses and on other similar issues.

One student, Jarymar Arana from Texas — who plans to bring up the pipeline again this afternoon when the students visit the White House — thanked the administrator for its previous “robust review” of the pipeline and asked “if you will continue to stand up for the communities affected by Keystone XL.”

“Yes, that’s our job,” Jackson said, speaking of EPA’s obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act to review environmental impact statements.

But, she noted, “Everyone, I think, knows here that the actual decision-makers are the State Department.”

Jackson said the EPA is almost finished with its final comments on the pipeline, but declined to tell reporters when they would be completed.

She noted President Barack Obama’s brief mention Wednesday of the controversy, telling the activists that “he’s certainly heard your voices and is very much aware of the concerns you have raised.”

Arana told POLITICO that Sierra Club and its student activists feel that EPA’s last comments filed on the Keystone XL pipeline essentially rejected the project, and they want to “build on that momentum and ask that they do it again.”

Arana is particularly concerned about family in Brownsville, Texas, near the Gulf Coast, where there may be increased demand for refineries once the pipeline is built, and said she and other activists are concerned about the disproportionate impact on the Hispanic community that could come from the pipeline.

Most of the students at the Sierra Club event at Howard University this morning were focused on coal.

Students at the event said that 17 student groups thus far have won campaigns to retire coal-fired power plants on campus and that last month students held more than 100 events nationwide asking for a transition off of coal at their schools.

Jackson used the event to warn students about congressional assaults on a slew of rules and defend the agency’s recent decisions. “We’re not going to use the current economic crisis to roll back the health and safety people have come to rely on for a decade. … It would be tragic if we took one step forward, and we end up taking four or five steps back, “she said.

About environmental laws, she added: “None of them are safe right now.”

“We will … continue to face vote after vote to knock these rules down,” Jackson said. “They’re threatening more votes … against the Clean Air Act. Against the Clean Water Act … of course now we hear that the EPA is the enemy.”

She called out an unnamed lawmaker in her speech, noting, “I read a really interesting headline today … an elected official, I won’t say which one, said he needs to protect coal ash from regulation. I thought — ‘I thought the job was to protect us from coal ash!’ One of the reason that we have regulations and standards was to protect we the people.”

It appears Jackson was referring to Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and a story in The Hill.

Jackson specifically defended the agency’s agreement with automakers to up standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025, though she warned students, “There will be an effort to reverse it. … And it will probably be led by someone from California.” (Rep. Darrell Issa has been a leading critic of the deal.)

Jackson also spoke voraciously of the agency’s upcoming mercury and air toxics standards, due out Dec. 16 after environmental litigants recently granted a one-month extension.

One of the reasons it’s so important to meet the standards, Jackson told the students, is that there are many coal plants that are 40, 50, 60 years old. “We actually have one, I think, approaching 70 years old. And in their entire history … they’ve never found the time, or the reason, to clean up their act.”

10/14/2011 Let's Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long

10/14/2011 EarthJustice Blog: Let’s Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long: Across the nation, old coal-fired power plants are gasping for their last breath, having survived long past their prime because of political favors and weak government regulations. They would have died decades ago if not for a fateful policy compromise in the late 1970s that exempted existing power plants from new air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The compromise was based on a prediction that the plants would be retired soon, but instead it gave them a whole new lease on life, with a free pass to pollute for another 30 plus years. And until recently, there was no end in sight.

These plants continue to cough up toxic pollutants like mercury, lead and arsenic into the air. They are by far the biggest producers of the power sector’s pollution, forcing millions of Americans to seek their own life support – in the form of respirators and inhalers – just to get through each day without an asthma attack.

Earthjustice litigation is taking steps to close the loopholes and retire dozens of the old plants, while cleaning up those that continue to operate. We are employing a multi-prong strategy to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen pollution standards based on the best available science and technology.

National environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts are meant to be updated regularly to reflect the current science. Thanks to our litigation, the EPA has recently begun to deliver on the promise of our nation’s environmental laws by taking long overdue action on limiting mercury from coal, cleaning up the air in our national parks that is obscured by power plant haze, and setting national standards on water pollution. In addition, the EPA is currently on the hook for enforcing greenhouse gas emission standards, updating national standards for smog and soot.

Our goal is to end what amounts to government subsidizing of the coal power industry, and to invigorate the clean energy economy. That’s good for the climate, for our health—and for jobs. Early this year, a report by Ceres showed that the EPA’s two new air quality rules would create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years because of pollution control equipment and jobs from clean energy development.

As EPA does its job and these new regulations are adopted, dirty coal plants are being forced to decide whether to pay the price of significant pollution upgrades – or shut down and replace that power with cleaner choices.

Of course, coal plant owners and their allies don’t want to have to make that choice. Even now, instead of focusing on ways to fix the economy, the coal industry is waging an all-out defensive attack on environmental protections that are good for the nation but threaten their industry’s bottom line.

Some coal plant operators have seen the writing on the wall. Since many plants are already past their prime, some are choosing to retire—a hard decision made all the easier by our litigation. For example, this spring the owner of the Trans Alta coal plant, Washington state’s largest source single source of air pollution, agreed to shut down the plant by 2025 after coming to the realization that installing the air pollution controls necessary to comply with air and water pollution standards was not a profitable venture. Currently we’re also stepping up efforts to shut down dirty, outdated coal plants in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee, and the Midwest.

We’re also working to encourage clean energy alternatives. Our clean energy program includes preventing construction of transmission lines that favor coal over renewable energy sources and encouraging smart grid developments that rely on clean energy sources like wind and solar, strengthening efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, and pushing full implementation of state-level climate and renewable energy policies.

The nation is at an energy crossroads. One path cuts old ties and moves on to a clean energy future powered by a mix of next generation power sources. The other path prolongs our dependence on an energy source that is cooking the planet and making us sick. The choice is clear. Thank you for joining with us as we help build the clean energy path.

Sierra Club: This Much Mercury . . . How the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich

Sierra Club: This Much Mercury . . . How the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich By Dashka Slater: Rich Gelfond keeps his Oscar statue in a black cloth sack in the bottom drawer of his desk. He received it as CEO of the film-technology company Imax, for “the method of filming and exhibiting high fidelity, large-format, wide angle format, motion pictures,” although when I read the inscription aloud, he feigns surprise, as if he’s forgotten how he came to own it. “Is that what it’s for?” he muses. “An Oscar’s kind of like potato chips—when you have one, you need more. Kind of like tuna sushi.”

Tuna sushi—and the devastating repercussions of Gelfond’s onetime passion for it—has been the topic of conversation for the past hour, and Gelfond smiles slyly and a bit ruefully at his joke. With his round face, long blond eyelashes, and startled blue eyes, he seems placid but with an underlying current of energy, like a guinea pig who just drank a latte. For years he was an avid tennis player who also loved running around the Central Park reservoir or near his home in eastern Long Island.

But about six years ago he began to feel oddly off balance, as though he might fall at any moment. He tried running on grass instead of asphalt but finally had to give it up altogether. It was probably stress, he reasoned, opting to stick to tennis. It was only when he nearly fell over while trying to serve that he decided to see a doctor.

More symptoms came to light in the physician’s office. Gelfond had a tremor in his hands and had trouble putting his fingers together. A neurologist, worried that the symptoms pointed to a brain tumor, ordered an immediate MRI. But there was no tumor, and as he underwent a battery of increasingly unpleasant tests and scans, Gelfond’s symptoms worsened. His feet tingled (a condition called neuropathy), and his balance became so off-kilter that it made walking difficult. “If I was with someone, I would walk close to them so, if I fell, I could grab on,” he recalls.

Then, six months into his illness, Gelfond’s neurologist asked a seemingly random question: “Do you eat a lot of fish?”
As he underwent increasingly unpleasant tests and scans, Gelfond’s symptoms worsened. His feet tingled, and his balance became so off-kilter that he could barely walk.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Gelfond replied. It turns out that he had been eating seafood at two out of every three daily meals as part of his healthy lifestyle. What he didn’t know was that some kinds of fish—particularly the tuna and swordfish he favored—are high in mercury, a potent nerve poison. A blood test revealed that his mercury level was 76 micrograms per liter (mcg/L), 13 times the EPA’s recommended maximum of 5.8 mcg/L. It was so high that he got a call from the New York State Department of Public Health, asking whether he worked at a toxic-waste site.

“I was just so frustrated that I was trying to do something good for my body and in fact I was poisoning myself,” Gelfond tells me, leaning forward in his chair. “I had no awareness.”

Neither did most of the people he talked to, including physicians. To them, mercury poisoning was something that happened to the mad hatters of the 19th century or to the victims of industrial waste in Minamata, Japan, in the 1950s. It didn’t happen to 21st-century New York executives. Having found the source of his illness, Gelfond’s neurologist had no idea how to treat it, and when Gelfond contacted other New York physicians, most told him that mercury couldn’t possibly be causing his symptoms because adults aren’t susceptible to mercury poisoning.

“There has been a tendency to say adults are resistant,” says Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental medicine at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which has treated a number of people who have gotten mercury poisoning from fish. “We don’t really understand why some adults are sensitive and others seem to be quite tolerant.”

The main prescription for Gelfond’s mercury poisoning was to stop ingesting it. Once he eliminated high-mercury fish from his diet, his levels began to drop; within six months he was down to 18 mcg/L. One year after his diagnosis, he was able to walk without assistance. Six months after that, he was back to playing tennis. Today he says he’s about 60 percent recovered. He still has trouble running long distances, and his symptoms resurface when he’s fatigued. Mercury has changed his life forever.
“You never hear about fish. Tuna fish—it’s just one of those things you wouldn’t think to be scared of.”

A few weeks earlier I’d spent the evening at a salon in Billings, Montana, watching stylists give people what amounted to very tiny haircuts. The Sierra Club was offering free mercury testing there and at other places around the country, and about 40 people had gathered at the Sanctuary Salon to provide hair samples for analysis.

The room was perfumy with hair products and buzzing with blow-dryers. Young women sat down to have a few strands of hair clipped close to the scalp, murmuring the usual things women say in salons: “I hate my hair!” and “Can you get rid of the gray?”

They also wanted to understand whether their own eating habits put them at risk. Tierani Bursett, 27, asked whether she should be concerned about the walleye she catches while ice fishing (she should). A local newscaster, who didn’t want to be named, said she was “addicted to sushi” and wondered if she should be worried (yes). The mother of a four-month-old wanted to know if mercury passes through breast milk (it does), and an older man asked whether mercury is a concern for people over 60 (it is). Luzia Willis, one of the salon’s manicurists, was feeling nervous about all the tuna she buys at Costco (with good reason). “Why is there extra mercury in the fish?” she asked. “What’s causing it?”

But What Fish Can I Eat? Click image below to see the full chart.

The answer can be found all around her: at the Colstrip power plant east of Billings, which uses a rail car’s worth of coal every five minutes (see “High Plains Poison,” March/April 2010); in the coal-mining operations to the east and southeast; in the long chain of rail cars that chugs through town each night full of black ore bound for boilers across the country; and at the J. E. Corette power plant right in town. While there is always going to be some mercury in the environment—it occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and can be released into the air during forest fires or volcanic eruptions—70 percent of what we’re exposed to comes from human activities, and most of that comes from burning coal.

U.S. coal-fired power plants pump more than 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. The Martin Lake Power Plant in Tatum, Texas, spews 2,660 pounds per annum all on its own (it burns lignite, a particularly mercury-heavy form of coal). Compared with the vast amounts of mercury churning out of Asia, the U.S. contribution is fairly small—about 3 percent of the global total. Roughly a third of our emissions settles within our borders, poisoning lakes and waterways. The rest cycles through the atmosphere, with much of it eventually winding up in the world’s oceans.

Inorganic mercury isn’t easily assimilated into the human body, and if the mercury emitted by power plants stayed in that form, it probably wouldn’t have made Gelfond and many others sick. But when inorganic mercury creeps into aquatic sediments and marshes (as well as mid-depths of oceans), bacteria convert it into methylmercury, an organic form that not only is easily assimilated but also accumulates in living tissue as it moves up the food chain: The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury in its meat. It takes only a tiny amount to do serious damage: One-seventieth of a teaspoon can pollute a 20-acre lake to the point where its fish are unsafe to eat. Thousands of tons a year settle in the world’s oceans, where they bioaccumulate in carnivorous fish. Forty percent of human mercury exposure comes from a single source—Pacific tuna.

“Ninety-five to 100 percent of the methylmercury that we acquire in our bodies comes from the consumption of seafood,” explains Stony Brook University professor Nicholas Fisher, director of the Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research, which oversees the (newly endowed) Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Education. (Seafood, in this case, includes fish from lakes and rivers.) When EPA researchers tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish at 500 U.S. lakes and reservoirs in 2009, they found mercury in each and every one; close to half of the fish had levels so high they were unsafe to eat. Another 2009 study, by the U.S. Geological Survey, found mercury-contaminated fish in each of the 291 streams and rivers tested. Mercury pollution causes U.S. waters to be closed to fishing more often than does any other source of contamination.

In March, after more than 20 years of delay, the EPA proposed a new federal air pollution standard for power plant emissions of mercury and other toxics. The new rule, which was vigorously opposed by the coal industry, will require power plants to use “maximum achievable control technology” to filter mercury from their smokestacks by 2014. The result of a 2008 lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, the rule is expected to cost industry more than $10 billion to implement.

That may sound like a lot—unless you compare it with the cost of doing nothing. Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of preventative medicine and pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, did exactly that, in a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2006. He calculated that between 316,000 and 647,000 American babies are born each year with mercury levels high enough to cause measurable brain damage. Because every drop in IQ results in a loss of economic productivity, he estimated that the mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants costs the nation $1.3 billion each year. As he explained in a Senate briefing in 2005, “those costs will recur year after year, with each new birth cohort, so long as mercury emissions are not controlled. By contrast, the cost of installing stack filters is a one-time expense.”

Many of the same coal-industry supporters who question the science of climate change also deny that mercury harms public health. “To actually cause poisoning or a premature death you have to get a large concentration of mercury into the body,” insisted Texas representative Joe Barton at a congressional hearing on the new EPA pollution rules earlier this year. “I’m not a medical doctor, but my hypothesis is that’s not going to happen!”

The experiences of fish lovers like Gelfond and actor Jeremy Piven (who famously pulled out of a Broadway show, citing mercury poisoning) refute Barton’s hypothesis, but theirs are admittedly extreme cases. After all, the average American eats less than one serving of fish per week. Many eat far more, however; one researcher extrapolated from existing data that there are up to 184,000 people in the United States with blood mercury levels above 58 mcg/L, a level at which they would likely show adverse symptoms.

The symptoms of mercury toxicity are fairly well established. They include lack of balance and coordination, trouble concentrating, loss of fine motor skills, tremors, muscle weakness, memory problems, slurred speech, an awkward gait, hearing loss, hair loss, insomnia, tingling in the limbs, and loss of peripheral vision. Long-term exposure may also increase the risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and reduce the concentration and mobility of sperm.

What’s unclear is how much mercury it takes to make you sick. Nearly everyone feels fine when the level of mercury in their blood is below 5.8 mcg/L, which the EPA says is safe for pregnant women. And most—although not all—exhibit symptoms at 100 mcg/L. But some people show symptoms with levels as low as 7 mcg/L, and others feel right as rain despite being above 100 mcg/L.

Physicians speculate that susceptibility to mercury could be genetic, or the result of diet or stress. It also seems that people can have mercury-related impairments without realizing it. In an Italian study from 2003 comparing 22 men who frequently ate tuna with 22 who didn’t, the tuna eaters (who had a mean level of 41.5 mcg/L) fared significantly worse on cognitive tests, despite having no outward symptoms of poisoning.

One thing that isn’t in question, though, is that developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury. Two out of three large-scale studies have found that children born with it in their system have trouble with coordination, concentration, language, and memory—and continue to have the same deficits many years later.

Nancy Lanphear is a behavioral developmental pediatrician who works at a clinic in Vancouver for children with disabilities like autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Several years ago, a mother came into her clinic with a four-and-a-half-year-old girl who had cerebral palsy as well as speech and motor delays. But what attracted Lanphear’s attention was that the child was drooling.

“I’m looking at this four-year-old and saying, ‘This is mercury,'” Lanphear recalls, hypersalivation being a classic sign of mercury poisoning. The child’s chart showed that a heavy metals screening at age two had found high mercury levels in both mother and child, as well as in the child’s grandfather. The mother recalled being encouraged by her physician to eat fish during her pregnancy; she ate tuna or other seafood two to four times a week, sure that she was helping her baby’s development.

“She knows that she’s not to blame, that it was inadvertent, but there’s still some grief there,” Lanphear says of the mother. “It’s not something that’s going away, even though the child’s mercury levels are now normal. The damage was done to the developing brain.” Lanphear uses the story to remind obstetricians and pediatricians to be on the lookout for mercury poisoning in their patients.

The EPA estimates that at least 8 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels above 5.8 mcg/L. If you zero in on communities that regularly eat fish, the prevalence is much higher. In the Northeast, one out of every five women has a mercury level exceeding the EPA threshold. In New York City, it’s one out of every four, and close to half of the city’s Asian population have elevated mercury levels, as do two-thirds of the city’s foreign-born Chinese.

High-mercury pockets also exist on the West Coast. Between 2000 and 2001, San Francisco physician Jane Hightower tested 116 patients who said they frequently ate fish. She found elevated mercury levels among 89 percent of them, with half above 10 mcg/L. Many of these patients had reported nonspecific symptoms like headaches, nausea, depression, and trouble concentrating, and had been searching for an explanation for months or years.

Since that first survey, Hightower has treated hundreds of mercury-exposed people from all walks of life. Among her patients was then-five-year-old Sophie Chabon, the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, whose books include the best-seller Bad Mother. Sophie had been an early talker and walker, but then she seemed to hit a wall, suddenly unable to sound out words she used to know how to read and even forgetting how to tie her shoes. A blood test turned up mercury levels of 13 mcg/L. The culprit: twice-weekly tuna sandwiches.

As Sophie cut tuna out of her diet, her mercury levels dropped, and her stalled development surged ahead again. Now in high school, she has a passion for history, film, and French and shows no sign of any lasting effects from the mercury exposure. Still, Waldman fumes when she thinks about what might have happened if they hadn’t caught the problem so early. “I blame our country for not [caring] about what we’re spewing into the atmosphere,” she says. “This is about coal, pure and simple. You wouldn’t go and break your child’s bones one by one, but we tolerate this kind of poison that’s ruining their minds. It’s insane.”

While Hightower’s wealthy patients tend to eat sushi and expensive tuna, swordfish, and halibut, poor Americans eat canned light tuna—often subsidized by the federal Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program—and fish they hook themselves in local rivers, lakes, or bays. Immigrants are particularly likely to fish for food, often without understanding the risks of eating their catch. The average Latino angler, for instance, consumes twice as much mercury daily as the EPA considers safe, while a 2010 study of subsistence fishing in California found that some anglers were getting 10 times that dose. The same study found that anglers with children had a higher mercury intake than those without, probably because families with more mouths to feed rely more on food that can be caught rather than bought.

The boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, is a 2.5-mile strip of salt air and stimulation, with arcades and carnival rides, pirate-themed mini golf and fried clams. It was here that a young woman named Jaime Bowen stood in front of a microphone in June and nervously contemplated the crowd. A 31-year-old home-healthcare worker with two children, Bowen had gone to a Sierra Club-sponsored hair-testing event with an environmentally minded friend a month before, more as a lark than out of any real concern for her health. “It was kind of a joke going to get my hair clipped,” she says. “Then, to get the results—it was a reality check.”

Of the 36 people at the event who were willing to share their results, 8 had elevated mercury levels. Bowen was one of them. Hers was 1.37 ppm—too low to cause health problems, but higher than the EPA considers safe for women of childbearing age. (Hair mercury levels are evaluated differently than blood mercury levels, but a hair level of 1.2 ppm is roughly equivalent to a blood level of 5.8 mcg/L.) Now she was concerned about her two children, who, after all, ate what she ate. “You hear, ‘Don’t break that thermometer.’ You never hear about the fish,” she says. “I made my kids tuna fish sandwiches the other day, and now I feel horrible. Tuna fish—it’s just one of those things you wouldn’t think to be scared of.”

And so Bowen stood at the podium, gripping the paper that held her prepared remarks. She talked about fish and her fears about her children’s safety, and about coal. To her surprise, she looked up to see that people up and down the boardwalk had stopped to listen. “I did want them to know,” she says. “I’m just a regular person—I’m not doing anything different than those people.”

Behind her, the ocean sparkled, sending salty breezes drifting over the boardwalk. A seagull circled, white and gray, its bright eyes scanning the scene below: the crowded boardwalk, a fish-filled sea, and, tucked in a bay just a little to the northwest, the lighthouse-shaped smokestack of the BL England generating station, producing 450 megawatts of electricity, powered by West Virginia coal.

Dashka Slater is a regular contributor to Sierra. Her Web site is dashkaslater.com; she tweets @DashkaSlater.

This article was funded by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

US EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson: Statement on the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards

9/2/2011 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: US EPA Press Office (News Media Only) 202-564-4355: Statement by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson on the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards: Since day one, under President Obama’s leadership, EPA has worked to ensure health protections for the American people, and has made tremendous progress to ensure that Clean Air Act standards protect all Americans by reducing our exposures to harmful air pollution like mercury, arsenic and carbon dioxide.

This Administration has put in place some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history: the most significant reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution across state borders; a long-overdue proposal to finally cut mercury pollution from power plants; and the first-ever carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks. We will revisit the ozone standard, in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

7/7/2011 EPA Reduces Smokestack Pollution, Protecting Americans’ Health: Clean Air Act protections will cut dangerous pollution

EPA Reduces Smokestack Pollution, Protecting Americans’ Health from Soot and Smog: Clean Air Act protections will cut dangerous pollution in communities that are home to 240 million Americans CONTACT: Enesta Jones, jones.enesta@epa.gov, 202-564-7873, 202-564-4355: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 7, 2011: WASHINGTON – Building on the Obama Administration’s strong record of protecting the public’s health through common-sense clean air standards – including proposed standards to reduce emissions of mercury and other air toxics, as well as air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized additional Clean Air Act protections that will slash hundreds of thousands of tons of smokestack emissions that travel long distances through the air leading to soot and smog, threatening the health of hundreds of millions of Americans living downwind.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will protect communities that are home to 240 million Americans from smog and soot pollution, preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014 – achieving up to $280 billion in annual health benefits. Twenty seven states in the eastern half of the country will work with power plants to cut air pollution under the rule, which leverages widely available, proven and cost-effective control technologies. Ensuring flexibility, EPA will work with states to help develop the most appropriate path forward to deliver significant reductions in harmful emissions while minimizing costs for utilities and consumers.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

Carried long distances across the country by wind and weather, power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) continually travel across state lines. As the pollution is transported, it reacts in the atmosphere and contributes to harmful levels of smog (ground-level ozone) and soot (fine particles), which are scientifically linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths and prevent many cities and communities from enjoying healthy air quality.

The rule will improve air quality by cutting SO2 and NOx emissions that contribute to pollution problems in other states. By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions will reduce SO2 emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels. NOx emissions will drop by 54 percent. Following the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” mandate to limit interstate air pollution, the rule will help states that are struggling to protect air quality from pollution emitted outside their borders, and it uses an approach that can be applied in the future to help areas continue to meet and maintain air quality health standards.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule replaces and strengthens the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered EPA to revise in 2008. The court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize today’s replacement rule.

The rule will protect over 240 million Americans living in the eastern half of the country, resulting in up to $280 billion in annual benefits. The benefits far outweigh the $800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR. EPA expects pollution reductions to occur quickly without large expenditures by the power industry. Many power plants covered by the rule have already made substantial investments in clean air technologies to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions. The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling these emissions by requiring more facilities to do the same. In the states where investments in control technology are required, health and environmental benefits will be substantial.

The rule will also help improve visibility in state and national parks while better protecting sensitive ecosystems, including Appalachian streams, Adirondack lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, and forests. In a supplemental rulemaking based on further review and analysis of air quality information, EPA is also proposing to require sources in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin to reduce NOX emissions during the summertime ozone season. The proposal would increase the total number of states covered by the rule from 27 to 28. Five of these six states are covered for other pollutants under the rule. The proposal is open for public review and comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information: http://www.epa.gov/crossstaterule/


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6/15/2011 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: US EPA Administrator Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 6/15/2011 US EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works CONTACT: EPA Press Office press@epa.gov 202-564-6794 Madam Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify about EPA’s ongoing efforts to protect our health by reducing the air pollution that affects millions of Americans. I know this subject very personally because my son is one of the more than 25 million Americans battling asthma. Let me begin my testimony with a matter of fact: pollution, such as mercury and particulate matter, shortens and reduces the quality of Americans’ lives and puts at risk the health and development of future generations. We know mercury is a toxin that causes neurological damage to adults, children and developing fetuses. We know mercury causes neurological damage, including lost IQ point in children. And we know particulate matter can lead to respiratory disease, decreased lung function and even pre-mature death. These pollutants – and others including arsenic, chromium and acid gases –come from power plants. These are simple facts that should not be up for debate.

However, Madam Chairman, while Americans across the country suffer from this pollution, special interests who are trying to gut long-standing public health protections are now going so far as to claim that these pollutants aren’t even harmful. These myths are being perpetrated by some of the same lobbyists who have in the past testified before Congress about the importance of reducing mercury and particulate matter. Now on behalf of their clients, they’re saying the exact opposite.

The good news is that to address this pollution problem, in 1970 Congress passed the Clean Air Act – which was signed into law by a Republican President, and then strengthened in 1990 under another Republican Administration.

Last year alone, the Clean Air Act is estimated to have saved 160,000 lives and prevented more than 100,000 hospital visits. Simply put, protecting public health and the environment should not be – and historically has not been – a partisan issue.

Despite all the distractions, let me assure you that EPA will continue to base all of our public health protections on two key principles: the law and the best science. Allow me to focus on two current activities.

On March 16, after 20 years in the making, EPA proposed the first ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. While many power plants already comply, the standards will level the playing field by requiring additional power plants to install widely-available, proven pollution control technologies.

Deployment of these technologies will prevent an estimated:

17,000 premature deaths
11,000 heart attacks
120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms
11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children
12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions
850,000 days of work missed due to illness

This proposed rule, which is going through a public comment process, is the product of significant outreach to industry and other stakeholders.

As we work at EPA to cut down on mercury and other toxins from power plants, we’re also trying to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide through the “Clean Air Transport Rule” we proposed last year.

This rule requires 31 states and the District of Columbia to reduce their emissions of these two pollutants – which contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution across state lines – thereby significantly improving air quality in cities across the U.S. Utilities can achieve these reductions by investing in widely-available technology.

Once finalized, this rule will result in more than $120 billion in health benefits each year. EPA estimates this rule will protect public health by avoiding:

14,000 to 36,000 premature death

· 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis

· 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks

240,000 cases of aggravated asthma
440,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms
26,000 hospital and emergency room visits

· 1.9 million days of work or school missed due to illness

These numbers represent a major improvement in the quality of life for literally millions of people throughout the country – especially working families, children and older Americans.

While some argue that public health protections are too costly, history has repeatedly shown that we can clean up pollution, create jobs and grow our economy all at the same time.

Over the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew more than 200 percent. In fact, some economic analysis suggests that the economy is billions of dollars larger today than it would have been without the Act.

Simply put, the Clean Air Act saves lives and strengthens the American workforce. As a result, the economic value of clean air far exceeds the costs. Expressed in dollar terms, the benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 alone are projected to reach approximately $2 trillion in 2020, with an estimated cost of $65 billion in that same year – a benefit to cost ratio of more than 30 to 1.

With legislation pending in Congress to weaken and gut this proven public health protection law, I urge this committee to stand up for the hundreds of millions of Americans who are directly or indirectly affected by air pollution.

I look forward to your questions.


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5/31/2011 NRDC Would You Like Cancer-causing or Brain-poisoning Pollution With That Electricity?

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Staff Blog by Pete Altman: Hundreds of people have said no to toxic pollution from power plants near them by attending U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearings. The last one is today in Atlanta — if you can’t make it, support the EPA’s proposals to make power companies cut the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gases & other nasty stuff they release into the air by TAKING ACTION: http://b/ Next time you flip on the light switch, how would you respond if a little voice asked you “Thanks for your order. Would you like cancer with your electricity? How about some brain-poison?” Weird question, right? Unfortunately, power companies are one of the biggest toxic polluters in the US, dumping millions of pounds of cancer-causing, brain-poisoning toxins like arsenic and mercury into the air each year. The toxins are found in the coal that is burned to supply about ½ of our nation’s electricity.

This week, hundreds of people have shown up to hearings in Philadelphia and Chicago organized by the US Environmental Protection Agency to say “no thanks” to toxic pollution from power plants, and support the EPA’s proposals to make power companies reduce the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gases and other nasty stuff they release into the air.

(To let the EPA know you support reducing toxic pollution from power plants, take action here.)

As the Associated Press explained,

Several hundred people, from environmentalists and physicians to mothers and fishermen, testified before a panel of federal environmental officials on Tuesday to urge the passage of proposed new standards to limit the amount of air pollution that coal-fired power plants can release into the atmosphere.”

One those physicians was Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the poison control center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who said

Young children are uniquely vulnerable to the toxic effects of environmental poisons such as mercury and arsenic. These compounds are especially dangerous to the developing brain and nervous system.

Some of the speakers pulled no punches. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported,

Rabbi Daniel Swartz leaned toward the microphone at Tuesday’s hearing on proposed federal rules to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

By allowing emissions to continue, “we have, in effect, subsidized the poisoning of fetuses and children,” the Scranton rabbi said.

In Chicago, a similar scene unfolded, as the Chicago Tribune reported, with supporters of limiting toxic air pollution coming out in force, as noted by Chicago radio station WBEZ:

Midwesterners who testified at a public hearing in Chicago Tuesday afternoon were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed EPA plan.”

One of those speaking in Chicago was NRDC’s Shannon Fisk, who focused on the critical need for EPA to act swiftly to reduce toxic pollution, saying,

[Some] in industry are pushing EPA to delay …my question to these agents of delay is how much is enough. How many lives are they willing to sacrifice in order to have even more time to install pollution controls that have been available for decades?”

Polling shows that throughout the nation, Americans strongly support reducing toxic air pollution from industrials sources. A February 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling revealed that 66% of Americans support “requiring stricter limits on the amount of toxic chemicals such as mercury lead and arsenic that coal power plants and other industrial facilities release.”

The EPA’s final hearing on the toxics rules is in Atlanta today. But going to a hearing isn’t the only way for concerned citizens to weigh in.

If you’d like to say “no thanks” to cancer-causing and brain-poisoning toxins from power plants, send a comment directly to the EPA in support of the toxics proposals by using our quick and easy action page.

5/31/2011 Please Tell US EPA to Protect Our Health from Toxic Pollutants

Join me in supporting this cause! Petition: Protect Our Health from Toxic Pollutants Click the play button to sign this petition. Dear Administrator Jackson, Every year, power plants release more than 386,000 tons of toxic air pollutants into the air we breathe. These emissions — which aren’t subject to any federal limits to protect our health and safety — impose a heavy burden on Americans in the form of cancer, heart and lung disease, and thousands of premature deaths every year. The technology to reduce these costly emissions is available and affordable, and I strongly support the EPA’s Power Plant Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which will make our air safer to breathe by requiring that power plants use these proven methods of pollution control to limit their harmful emissions. [Your comments will be inserted here.] In the coming months, I urge you to resist any efforts to weaken or delay your recent proposal to limit power plants’ emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxin, acid gases and other toxic pollutants. The power plant industry has already used its financial and political influence to avoid these important health protections for more than two decades. We cannot wait any longer.

Power plants pump more mercury into our air than all other big industrial polluters combined. Mercury pollution damages aquatic ecosystems and contaminates fish species that many Americans rely on for recreation and nourishment. Pregnant women and young children are most at risk: mercury exposure can lead to birth defects and learning disabilities and can also irreparably impact a young child’s ability to talk, think, read, write and learn. It is critically important that we protect these vulnerable members of our society from harm.

The Power Plant Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths every year and spare many more Americans the physical and financial costs associated with illnesses brought on by breathing dirty air. These benefits to our society should be non-negotiable, considering especially that they outweigh the costs to polluters by as much as 13-to-1.

Thank you for taking this long-overdue step to protect our right to breathe clean air.

[Your name here]