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Press release

December 16, 2003
CONTACT: Carla Klein
Local Contact, 573-815-9250

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S MERCURY PROPOSAL CONTRADICTS PRIOR EPA/FDA JOINT FISH WARNINGS

While Administration Cautions Women and Children to Limit Fish Consumption, It Undermines Existing Mercury Protections

Washington, DC- Today, the Bush administration proposed weakening public health protections by announcing a so-called "Utility Mercury Reductions" proposal that would allow polluters to avoid cleaning up mercury pollution. This comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issuing health warnings about the toxic effects of eating mercury-tainted fish in a draft joint advisory set to be finalized early next year.

"The Bush administration's new proposals contradict their own warnings about the dangers of mercury. On the one hand, the administration is announcing the dangers of mercury; on the other hand, it is hampering reductions of mercury from coal-fired power plants," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club's Executive Director. " Why is the Bush administration leaving Americans at risk for mercury pollution? We call on the Bush administration to enforce clean air laws that protect our health and require power plants to install new technology to control this dangerous pollutant.”

In December 2000, the EPA determined that mercury was a toxin that should be regulated from ALL power plants (http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fr_notices/utilfind.pdf). Now, the Bush administration is proposing a cap and trade program that will allow companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. These may leave some communities at greater risk for toxic hot spots.

Just last week, the joint FDA and EPA draft advisory increased the number of fish species of concern due to unsafe levels of mercury and expanded the list of people who are most hurt by mercury, adding children, nursing mothers and women who may become pregnant.
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 fishermen and certain Native American populations are at risk.

In Missouri we have a statewide advisory for ALL rivers and lakes for mercury. Forty-five states have warned the public 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 childbearing age and children to reduce the consumption of some species of fish and avoid others completely. One of every dozen U.S. women of childbearing age has mercury in their bodies at levels that could threaten their unborn children.

"The Bush administration's decision to weaken toxic mercury standards is an unacceptable concession to polluting power companies that puts the public’s health at risk" said Carla Klein, Ozark Chapter Director for the Sierra Club.

Airborne deposits account for the bulk of mercury, which occurs naturally in coal and is emitted into the air as it burns. Regulation of mercury was 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 today. By one estimate, that means 300 more tons of mercury in rain over the next 15 years than if the current clean air laws were enforced.