Proposed mercury emissions standards
By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Ohio chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility
said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed
rule to restrict mercury emissions is insufficient to
protect the health of children.
Dr. Kim N. Dietrich, a professor of environmental health
and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College
of Medicine, has spent 27 years studying the human health
effects of mercury, particularly on children. He said
mercury is especially dangerous to a fetus, because the
toxin easily moves from mother to fetus though the placenta.
Mercury retards development of the brain and nervous
system. The chemical, which occurs naturally in coal and
other geological deposits, is released into the atmosphere
when coal is burned to make electricity and stays in the
body once it is consumed, usually by eating fish. Coal-fired
power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions
in the air, according to the U.S. EPA.
Dietrich said EPA's proposal to allow utilities to buy
and sell pollution emission credits comes at a time when
health studies show serious neurological problems resulting
from exposure to low levels of mercury.
The EPA has proposed two alternatives to the rule, with
the goal of reducing mercury emissions by 70 percent by
2018. Environmental groups say that's not enough, and
that forcing power plants to retroactively install pollution
controls to go along with their plant expansions would
reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2007.
An EPA spokesman said the agency is taking public comments
on the issue until the end of April. The new rule will
take effect in December. EPA Administrator Michael O.
Leavitt told the New York Times Monday that it could take
an extra decade to reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent
under the cap-and-trade approach. Leavitt has asked his
staff to do more study on the pollution control technologies
on the market and their cost.
"The situation now is intolerable," said Glen
Brand, Midwest representative for the Sierra Club. "Ohio
warns the public to limit their consumption of fish from
every local waterway. That's simply not acceptable."
The alternative to the rule favored by many environmentalists
would require utilities to install the best available
pollution control technologies used by the power plants
with the lowest emissions in the country.
Brand said the cap-and-trade idea would create hot spots
near power plants that purchase the right to pollute more.
This is a particularly important decision in Greater Cincinnati,
where there are four power plants, in Hamilton, Butler,
Warren and Clermont counties. Cinergy also operates power
plants in Kentucky and Indiana.
Ohio's coal-fired power plants emitted more than 8,000
pounds of mercury in 2000 - the most of any Great Lakes
state, according to EPA statistics. Indiana was second
with 5,735 pounds of mercury emitted.