Coal Power Plants = Mercury Poisoning for Kidsfeatured

If you’re like me you’ve caught some of warnings in the news about being careful not to eat too much fish because of high mercury levels. If you track them back, you would find that in March 2004, the FDA and EPA issued a joint warning to pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and nursing mothers against eating certain types of mercury-laden fish.

These reports tell us that one out of every six American women have so much mercury in their wombs that their children are at risk for a grim inventory of diseases, autism, blindness, mental retardation, heart, liver, kidney disease. That means that 630,000 infants are born in the U.S. every year with unsafe mercury levels. Not surprising when 48 states have issued fish consumption warnings because of unsafe levels of mercury in their waters, and the remaining states don’t have warnings, don’t because they haven’t coughed up the money to test the fish.

It’s crazy. But what those reports don’t tell us is that the majority of this mercury poisoning is being generated by our coal fired power plants. Coal based power plants are the largest unregulated source of mercury on the United States. Unfortunately, rather than enforcing laws already on the books, the EPA recently finalized a plan the undermines the Clean Air Act by allowing three times more mercury pollution into the air then what is allowed by current laws if they were strongly enforced, which they are not.

During the Clinton administration, mercury was reclassified as a hazardous pollutant which triggered the requirements in the Clean Air act that would force companies to remove 90 percent of the mercury within three and a half years. We have the technology to do this, and it would have cost less then one percent of plant revenues.

But this added up to billions of dollars for the utility industry, so instead they invested $100 million in campaign funding for the Bush administration and in 2005 they rolled back this classification of mercury as a hazardous pollutant. At least our utility stocks are paying nice dividends, even while our children are all getting sick from spending too much time in their mother’s wombs. Where are our priorities?

I encourage you to get tested for mercury contamination – the Sierra Club and Greenpeace are offering testing kits for $25. If you have unsafe levels, send your test results to your congressional representatives and ask that they take up this issue and require power plants to clean up their mercury pollution using readily available technology.

At the same time be careful to limit your intake of fish and shellfish. Here are the guidelines:

  • Do not eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish
  • Eat only two average servings (6 ounces per serving for adults, but less for kids) a week of fish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Since albacore (‘white’) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, you should eat only up to six ounces of albacore tuna each week. You should also only eat up to six ounces of tuna steak each week.
  • Eat only up to six ounces per week of fish you catch in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas, but don’t consume any other fish during that week, unless local advisories state that the fish are low in mercury and that it is safe to eat more

Just think about it, why is the EPA undermining existing air pollutions protections that would clean up mercury, while at the same time warning women of childbearing age and children to limit their consumption of mercury-laden fish? It’s time to connect the dots.

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