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
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.