Local Health, Wildlife experts applaud New Clean Air Act Standards for Mercury and other toxins

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Wade G. Hill, PhD, 406-994-4011; Larry McEvoy, MD (retired), 406-933-5700

MT;  Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed updated air quality standard for life-threatening air pollution such as mercury and arsenic from power plants. The proposal is called the Power Plant MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Standard, and is also known as the “Mercury, Arsenic, and Dioxin Reduction Rule.” 

 

This long overdue and critically important update to Clean Air Act standards is an important public health safeguard that is widely supported by Americans and will save lives, prevent disease and avoid hospitalizations, while creating new jobs installing air pollution control equipment.

The Rule is expected to prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11, 000 heart attacks annually, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, will result in 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children and 12,000 fewer emergency room visits and hospital visits. Currently over 90,000  persons suffer from asthma in Montana and approximately 20,000 are children.

 “Air toxics include some of the most hazardous air pollutants known to us,” said Wade Hill, Associate Professor at the MSU College of Nursing.

 

“In addition to mercury and arsenic, power plants emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin and acid gases that threaten public health and child development,” he said. “The recent report from the American Lung Association highlights the risk of these air pollutants, which, even in small amounts, are linked to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.”

Benefits for American workers will be seen through increased demand for control technology. As a result, steelmakers, pipefitters, and boilermakers will see a predicted gain of 31,000 short term jobs and 9,000 long term jobs. The technologies are available and proven, and industry will have up to 4 years to comply with the new regulations.

According to the EPA, coal-burning power plants contribute more than 50 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions in the U.S. This makes them the largest source of airborne mercury pollution in the country. A majority of power plants already achieve these types of standards; these standards will level playing field.

“Mercury is a particularly harmful air toxin because it accumulates in people, especially those who consume contaminated fish” said Larry McEvoy, MD, a retired internist in Clancy. 

“A potent and dangerous neurotoxin, mercury exposure affects a child’s ability to talk, read, write and learn,” he said.  “We know it adversely affects birds -- from osprey to loons.  We've known about the troubles from mercury for over 500 years, and its high time we keep it to safe levels.”

The EPA safeguard is expected to reduce mercury pollution by more than 90 percent. It is expected that the benefits of the rule will far outweigh the costs of implementation. 

A 60-day public comment period follows the release with public hearings in Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. www.epa.gov/airquality/powerplanttoxics

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