Mercury, George Bush & Your Body
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|Mon, 10-25-2004 - 9:28pm|
October 25, 2004 | Back Issues
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An interim study released last week by researchers at the
Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North
Carolina (UNC) at Asheville, has found that one-fifth of women
of childbearing age have mercury levels in their hair that
exceed federal health standards.
Clean air protections suffered a substantial setback when the
administration delayed a previously scheduled mercury clean-up
by 10 years. It also suppressed data on how American women and
their unborn children were being harmed by mercury exposure, and
granted unprecedented influence to the coal and oil-fired power
plants responsible for mercury pollution.
Under the Clean Air Act, utilities would have been required to
reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent over four years. Instead,
the Bush administration proposed scaling back and delaying the
clean-up to allow utilities to cut emissions by just 70 percent
over 14 years.
The administration's plan also allows higher polluting companies
to purchase "credits" from those that operate in a cleaner
fashion. Environmental experts argue that such a plan will cause
disproportionate harm to the people who live in proximity to the
Environmentalists have noted that 25 mercury-emitting utilities
would benefit by sharing in $2.7 billion in savings created by
the weaker rules. An earlier report by the Union of Concerned
Scientists noted that the administration allowed industry
lawyers to write much of the language for the new rules.
There are serious health implications to the delay in reducing
mercury emissions. An analysis by the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) found that 8 percent of women between the ages of
16 and 49 already have blood mercury levels high enough to cause
damage to their unborn children.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
2000 determined that about 12 percent of women of childbearing
age had mercury levels above the EPA standard.
Preliminary data from the UNC survey, commissioned by Greenpeace
USA, found that 21 percent of 597 women of childbearing age had
blood mercury levels higher than the EPA's recommended limit.
The Greenpeace-sponsored survey will test some 5,000 people by
the end of next March.
Mercury is known to cause learning and developmental disorders
as a result of prenatal exposure. The EPA report was suppressed
by the agency until leaked by an insider to the Wall Street
Journal. Earlier this year, the EPA announced that 630,000
American newborns were at risk of having unsafe levels of
mercury in their blood.
A recent report by the League of Conservation Voters found that
18 million Americans (including 1.5 million children) in the
country's 12 top-emitting states live within 10 miles of a
coal-fired power plant and are thereby exposed to dangerous
levels of mercury pollution.
"Children today and for generations to come will suffer
needlessly as a result of the administration's environmental
policies," said former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, in a
press release announcing the LCV study.