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Press release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 10, 2003
CONTACT:
Carla Klein, 573-815-9250

BUSH ADMINISTRATION LEANS ON FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION TO DOWNPLAY DANGERS OF MERCURY

Washington, DC- Under pressure from the Bush administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to downplay its plan to issue
more extensive warnings about the dangerous health effects of
mercury-tainted fish. The FDA is poised to increase the number of fish
species on the list with unsafe levels of mercury and expand the list of
people who are most hurt by mercury, adding children, nursing mothers and women who may become pregnant. Even so, the FDA will suggest that this is not different from previous advisories so as to conform with the Bush administration's recent sweeping changes that would make it easier for polluters to avoid cleaning up mercury. 

"On the one hand, the Bush administration is weakening the laws that protect Americans from the dangers of mercury pollution and on the other hand, the administration is warning us about the dangers of eating mercury-tainted fish," said Carla Klein, Ozark Chapter director. "Just last week, the Bush administration announced a plan to loosen protections from mercury pollution in our air. Instead of bowing to corporate polluters, the Bush administration should be protecting our communities, especially our children."

In April 2003, the FDA announced it would use the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lower, safe level for mercury in the human body to base its advisories regarding the consumption of fish. At the same time, Dr. David Acheson, the chief medical officer in the FDA's science office, said that FDA would add more fish to its list of those that should not be eaten.

Missouri currently has proposals for two huge 850 megawatt coal fired power plants in the Kansas City area, a new coal fired power plant in Springfield and the largest cement kiln in the nation, also a coal powered facility, rushing for construction permits. These facilities could all take steps to reduce mercury now but feel no pressure to do so with the Bush Administration rolling back protections. The FDA Food Advisory Committee will be meeting on December 10th and 11th to announce these new mercury warnings. We expect the Bush administration will attempt to downplay these broader warnings in order to be consistent with their recent announcements about controlling mercury emissions from power plants. 

Mercury is a powerful toxin that causes learning and developmental disabilities in children. Women of childbearing age and people who regularly and frequently eat highly contaminated fish, or even large amounts of moderately contaminated fish, are most likely to be at risk from mercury exposure. Children exposed in the womb or after birth, subsistence fisherman and certain Native American populations are at risk. Forty-four states warn people to limit consumption of fish from
mercury-contaminated lakes and rivers. Mercury works its way up the aquatic food chain and into the human body in a toxic form. The threat is especially great to the offspring of women who have high levels of mercury -- hence the advisories that urge women of child-bearing age and children to space out some fish meals and avoid others completely. Eight percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have mercury in their bodies at levels that could threaten their unborn children.

Airborne deposits account for the bulk of mercury, which occurs naturally
in coal and rises out of it as it burns. Regulation has been sought under
the 1990 Clean Air Act, with a December 15 deadline set for rule-making.
The EPA seemed poised to order a 90-percent cutback in mercury emitted from coal-powered plants by 2008. Instead, the long-term goal will be a 70-percent reduction by 2018, the EPA said last week. By one estimate, that means 300 more tons of mercury coming down with the rain over the next 15 years.

The Bush administration should enforce current clean air laws and require power plants to install new technology to control this dangerous pollutant. According to EPA the technology exists to reduce mercury by ninety percent.

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Carla Klein, Director

Ozark Chapter/Sierra Club

Phone: 573-815-9250