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E-M:/ Hundreds of Thousands Call for Action on Mercury Pollution

For Immediate Release:                                                            Contact :

6/29/2004                                                                                Kate Madigan, 517-664-2600


Hundreds of Thousands Call on Bush Administration to Reverse Course on Toxic Mercury

U.S. Bush Plan Delays Cleanup Until 2018 at the Earliest


Detroit, Michigan–Today marks the close of the public comment period for the federal mercury proposal.  More than 600,000 Americans have written to EPA since January criticizing the current proposal and calling for real action.  This is nearly three times as many comments as EPA has ever received on any other rulemaking.   


Comments were submitted from health advocates, children’s organizations, sportsmen’s groups, as well as many Congressional delegates and other elected officials, calling on the Bush administration to drop its highly controversial mercury pollution plan. 


“The message today is clear,” said Paul Shaheen, Executive Director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health.  “The public wants to end the threat that mercury poses to children’s health.  The technology exists to virtually eliminate mercury pollution from power plants, and there is no reason for us to continue to put our children’s health at risk,” he continued. 


Last week, Michigan Representatives Conyers, Kildee, Levin, Kilpatrick, and Upton joined 179 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives in sending a bi-partisan letter that called on the Bush administration to abandon its flawed power plant mercury proposal and to instead move forward with a rule that adequately protects children and the environment. Michigan Representative Dingell also sent in his own letter to EPA calling for stronger mercury regulations than currently proposed.


“We applaud Michigan’s Representatives who are working to protect children from the toxic mercury pollution that comes from power plants,” stated Kate Madigan, Environmental Advocate for PIRGIM. “We urge all of our leaders to listen to overwhelming public demand and join in this effort to protect Michigan from mercury pollution.”


Power plants are by far the largest – and only uncontrolled – industrial source of mercury emissions.  Power plants in Michigan emitted 2852 pounds of mercury in 2001, ranking the state 11th in the country.


Mercury is a dangerous toxic chemical, especially for fetuses and young children whose brains are still developing.  Eating mercury-contaminated fish is the primary way people are exposed to mercury.  One in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. has elevated levels of mercury in her blood, putting 630,000 of the 4 million babies born each year in the U.S. at risk for learning disabilities, developmental delays, and problems with fine motor coordination, among other problems. 


In 2002, Michigan had posted health warnings for mercury covering every inland lake statewide.  These advisories urge people to avoid or limit consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury.  Forty states have fish consumption advisories in place.


The Clean Air Act requires air toxics such as mercury to be controlled to emission levels achievable by “maximum achievable control technologies” (MACT).  Such controls must be in place no later than three years after the regulations are finalized.  Two years ago, EPA estimated that under this standard, power plants could reduce 90 percent of mercury from power plants using existing technologies, bringing mercury emissions down from 48 tons to roughly 5 tons per year by 2008.


EPA’s current approach removes power plants from the list of industries for which MACT standards must be developed and delays the date by which power plants must install state-of-the-art mercury controls until at least 2018.   Further, EPA allows some plants to avoid reducing mercury at all by permitting them instead to buy credits from other plants in different locations.  This substantially increases the likelihood and severity of “hot spots,” or communities where mercury deposition is more prevalent. 


“In sum, the EPA proposal allows power plants to emit six to seven times more mercury into the nation’s air, and for at least a decade longer, than the Clean Air Act would allow if faithfully implemented,” said Madigan.  “EPA should scrap this flawed plan and go back to the drawing board to protect our children’s health.”


In part due to the slow pace of the federal proposal, several states are moving forward with mercury regulations at the state level. In fact, Governor Granholm has committed to phase out and eliminate mercury emissions in our state. To move towards this goal, Michigan has a stakeholder forum made up of industry and environmental stakeholders meeting since last summer to come up with a plan to aggressively reduce mercury emissions from power plants. The recommendations of this group will be completed this summer with state action expected to follow.


“Here in Michigan, the Great Lake State, we must take our own immediate action to protect our children’s health from this dangerous toxin,” said Madigan. “We have the technology to reduce mercury by 90 percent right now, and we deserve nothing less.”



PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group in Michigan) is a research and non-profit watchdog organization with 10,000 citizen members across the state. www.pirgim.org


Kate Madigan

PIRGIM Advocate

303 Abbott Street, Suite 205

East Lansing, MI 48823

Tel: 517-664-2600