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January 5, 2005
Press Release: Sierra Club applauds Illinois Governor for protecting public health from mercury pollution
Missouri Sierra Club Calls on Governor Blunt to Follow Example

Today, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to require Illinois' coal-fired power plants to reduce the levels of toxic mercury released into our air and water. The plan forces the plants to reduce mercury pollution by 90% in the next three years.

In the months leading up to this decision, the Sierra Club held nine mercury testing events throughout the state, drawing attention to the dangers of mercury pollution and the need to protect families from mercury poisoning. Additionally, in September 2005, the Sierra Club released a poll revealing that an overwhelming majority (73%) of Illinois voters supported requiring all coal-burning power plants in the state to reduce the level of mercury being emitted from their smokestacks.

“Governor Blagojevich's proposal will not only protect the health of Illinois children, it will also set a precedent for other Governors across the country to take the necessary steps to clean up mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and address a major public health problem,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

The Bush administration recently drew criticism for its plan to release three times more mercury pollution into our air than current clean air laws allow and delays cleanup for a decade longer. Governors across the country are taking matters into their own hands to protect women and children from harmful mercury pollution. Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin already have mercury standards in the works that demand deeper and faster cuts than the federal proposal.

In Missouri, Sierra Club is working with Representative Barbara Wall Fraser (D) 83 District to introduce legislation to reduce harmful mercury emissions from major coal burning power plants to protect women and children. Representative Fraser has been a strong advocate for environmental protection and health issues. The legislation impacts both. Missouri has a statewide health advisory for All lakes and rivers for mercury contamination. The advisory warns the public to limit consumption of fish from mercury-contaminated lakes and rivers. Mercury works it’s 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 urge women of childbearing age and children to reduce the consumption of some species of fish and avoid others completely.

Mercury is a developmental neurotoxin that can affect fetuses developing in the womb, young children, and at higher doses, can lead to serious health effects in adults. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood that are high enough to put a baby at risk. Nationwide, as many as 630,000 infants are born every year with unsafe mercury levels, putting them at risk of cognitive and developmental damage.

“Governor Blunt should follow Blagojevich’s example in order to protect the health of Missouri’s children,” said Jill Miller, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s Global Warming & Energy Program in St. Louis. “When federal protections for citizens are weak and favor polluters, it’s time for state and local leaders to step in and make it right.”

The Sierra Club is sponsoring a mercury hair testing program with the University of North Carolina, where participants can find out exactly how much mercury is in their bodies. Home testing kits are available for a small non-profit fee online at www.sierraclub.org/mercury.