And while mercury
levels from autos reach record levels, the Bush Adminsitration continues to hide
its devasting effects. From yesterday's New York
April 7, 2004
White House Downplayed the Risks of Mercury in
Proposed Rules, Scientists SayBy JENNIFER 8.
ASHINGTON, April 5 — While working with Environmental Protection Agency
officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent
months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury,
hundreds of pages of documents and e-mail messages show.
The staff members deleted or modified information
on mercury that employees of the environmental agency say was drawn largely from
a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned
to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.
In interviews, 6 of 10 members of the academy's
panel on mercury said the changes did not introduce inaccuracies. They said that
many of the revisions sharpened the scientific points being made and that
justification could be made for or against other changes. Most changes were made
by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which employs economists
and scientists to review regulations.
But scientists on the academy panel and others
outside it as well as environmentalists and politicians expressed concern in
recent interviews that a host of subtle changes by White House staff members
resulted in proposed rules that played down the health risks associated with
mercury from coal-fired power plants. The proposal largely tracks suggestions
from the energy industry.
While the panel members said the changes did not
introduce outright errors, they said they were concerned because the White House
almost uniformly minimized the health risks in instances where there could be
"What they are saying is not scientifically
invalid on its face," said Alan Stern, a New Jersey toxicologist who served on
the panel. "Partially they edited for clarity and relevance from a scientific
standpoint. But there appears to be an emphasis on wordsmithing that is not
necessarily dictated by the science."
Last Thursday attorneys general from 10 states and
45 senators asked the E.P.A. to scrap the proposed rules, saying they were not
They also asked Michael O. Leavitt, the agency's
administrator, to extend the comment period for the rules, which now ends April
30. Under a court-ordered agreement, the rules are to be in final form by Dec.
In some cases, White House staff members suggested
phrasing that minimized the links between power plants and elevated levels of
mercury in fish, the primary source from which Americans accumulate mercury in
their bodies, in a form known as methylmercury.
The academy has found that exposure to elevated
levels of mercury can damage the brains of children and fetuses.
In another instance, a draft passage originally
read, "Recent published studies have shown an association between methylmercury
exposure and an increased risk of heart attacks and coronary disease in adult
It was changed to "it has been hypothesized that
there is an association between methylmercury exposure and an increased risk of
coronary disease; however this warrants further study as the new studies
currently available present conflicting results."
The change understates known science, some academy
panel members said in interviews.
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----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, April 07, 2004 10:28
Subject: E-M:/ News Release: Mercury
Pollution From Automobiles at Record Levels
Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 ext.
Karen Thomas, Environmental Defense, 413-587-2270
From Automobiles at Record Levels
Public Health at
Stake Unless Auto Industry/Policymakers Take Action Today
(07 April 2004 --
Detroit) According to a new analysis by the Clean Car Campaign,
approximately 710 pounds of mercury pollution were released into the
environment last year from scrap vehicles in Michigan when they were
recycled. Nearly 10,000 pounds of mercury have already been released
from Michigan vehicles over the past 20 years, and approximately an equal
amount could be released over the next two decades if action is not taken soon
to recover mercury before vehicles are scrapped. To download a copy of
the report, please visit:
to stop the continued assault on the public's health from automotive sources
of mercury emissions, immediate steps must now be taken by policymakers and
auto companies to establish a mercury recovery program for scrap cars," stated
Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director at the Ecology Center. "Continuing to
allow mercury from scrap automobiles to pollute our treasured lakes and
waterways, from which we can't even eat the fish, is both unnecessary and
Nationally, domestic automakers have used more than 200
million, one-gram mercury switches in vehicles since the early 1980's.
In January 2001, the Ecology Center and Environmental Defense released
reports estimating that the recycling of scrap automobiles in steel
manufacturing facilities was the 4th largest source of mercury emissions into
The Clean Car Campaign based its new findings on
results of a Michigan study of auto dismantling yards completed in late 2002,
which provided further documentation on the amount of mercury in vehicles. The
study, jointly conducted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
(MDEQ) and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), found an average of .54
switches per vehicle--the equivalent of more than 4 million vehicles in
Michigan containing a mercury switch. Last year, an estimated 710 pounds
of mercury was released from approximately 322,147 switches contained in
The Clean Car Campaign has called on auto
manufacturers to share responsibility for the collection and recovery of
mercury from their automobiles. In 2003 automakers finally phased-out mercury
switches they put into new vehicles, but have done very little to
encourage the recovery of mercury from the millions of vehicles still on the
"In the three years since we issued our Mercury in
Vehicles report, less than one percent of the mercury in vehicles has been
recovered, resulting in the release of an estimated 54,000 pounds of mercury
in the U.S. into the environment," stated Karen Thomas, State Policy Director
at Environmental Defense. "Its time for automakers to be part of the
solution, not part of problem."
The Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been working on a proposal for a voluntary
statewide switch collection program over the past year that establishes a goal
of capturing 80% of the switches now contained in Michigan vehicles. The
proposal provides incentives for auto dismantlers that participate in the
program, and would ensure that a statewide collection system is in place for
handling the switches once they are removed. To date, the proposal has
been stuck due to opposition from automakers to providing a significant share
of the funding.
Legislation requiring automakers to share
responsibility for the mercury switch problem has been introduced in several
states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and
is now law in the State of Maine. Maine's legislation requires
automakers to pay a minimum of $1 per switch to auto dismantlers that turn in
switches to designated collection centers. Earlier this year, the
automakers' trade association--the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
(AAM)--lost a legal challenge to Maine's comprehensive mercury recovery
automakers have known about this problem for more than a decade, but still
insist they shouldn't be responsible for helping clean it up," stated the
Ecology Center's Jeff Gearhart. "This is not the kind of corporate
citizenship that will help restore Michigan's lakes and streams from
health-threatening mercury pollution."
Mercury is a
persistent heavy metal that is highly toxic to humans and wildlife and is
dangerous in even tiny amounts. The Environmental Protection Agency has
recently estimated that one in every six women of childbearing age has enough
mercury in her blood to pose a risk to her child - resulting in over 600,000
children being born each year overexposed to mercury. Mercury
contamination is bioaccumulative; therefore its concentration increases up the
food chain. As a result, top predator fish have mercury concentrations
up to a million times higher than the surrounding water.
The Clean Car
Campaign is coordinated by the Ecology Center and Environmental
The Ecology Center is a regional environmental organization
based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which works for clean air, safe water, and
environmental justice. The Auto Project of the Ecology
Center works to address the toxic and health issues related to the production
of automobiles and promotes cleaner vehicle
Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit
organization, represents more than 400,000 members. Since 1967,
Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law and innovative
private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most
serious environmental problems.