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Great Lakes Article:

MERCURY: Weak standards compromise a generation's health
Detroit Free Press

Great Lakes fish lovers have long awaited controls on the mercury that falls into the water from the smoke of coal-fired power plants. An unconscionably weak proposal coming from the Bush administration means the wait will be at least a decade longer.

Mercury works its way up the aquatic food chain and into the human body in a toxic form. The threat is especially great to the offspring of women who have high levels of mercury -- hence the advisories that urge women of child-bearing age and children to space out some fish meals and avoid others completely.

Airborne deposits account for the bulk of mercury, which occurs naturally in coal and rises out of it as it burns. Regulation has been sought since at least the 1990 Clean Air Act; with an end-of-2003 deadline finally set for rule-making, the Environmental Protection Agency seemed poised to order a 90-percent cutback in mercury emitted from coal-powered plants by 2008.

Instead, the long-term goal will be a 70-percent reduction by 2018, the EPA said last week. By one estimate, that means 300 more tons of mercury coming down with the rain over the next 15 years.

This undercutting of the next generation's health is compounded by the EPA's plan to put mercury into a cap-and-trade program, rather than forcing each plant to scrub mercury out of its smoke. Although mercury moves in the air worldwide, many studies show heavy local impacts. Reducing mercury in the Great Lakes food chain requires at least some cleanup at power plants here and upwind; any trading program ought at least to be regional.

The risks involved with mercury fall mostly on the tiniest Americans. Their future should count for more than this weak effort offers them.

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