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Michigan Scientists: Don't Roll Back Mercury Regs

April 10, 2012

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A resolution by Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe has scientists in Michigan concerned. Inhofe is trying to use the Congressional Review Act to block the EPA's new regulations on mercury emissions from power plants.

More than 100 Michigan scientists have signed and sent a letter to Congress urging support for the new mercury regulations and explaining why they believe the rules are important. University of Michigan Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Joel Blum says it's been proved scientifically that mercury is insidious as the pollution travels from the air into the water and then builds up in the human body from food fish.

"Once it gets into the lowest organisms in the food chain, it gets very rapidly bio-magnified in the food chain and can reach extremely high concentrations."

The new rules would be phased in to cut 90 percent of the mercury from the emissions. Opponents of the rules say they would be too costly for power plants. Proponents say half the coal-fired power plants in the nation already use proven technology that cuts mercury emissions, and that mercury pollution is even more costly than steps to limit it.

When the mercury restrictions were first proposed, some in Congress questioned whether mercury is really all that bad. Blum says the research is definitive.

"It is a neurotoxin and it affects brain function and IQ. Particularly vulnerable are children and unborn children."

University of Michigan toxicologist Nil Basu agrees, adding that there is no reason to question the science.

"We've known for more than a century that mercury is highly neurotoxic and highly damaging."

Basu says new study shows that it's even worse than previously feared.

"With more and more research, we're starting to realize that there may actually be no threshold for mercury, meaning that no level of mercury is safe at all."

The EPA estimates that the new rules, known as MATS, for Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, will save up to 11,000 lives and will prevent thousands of costly emergency-room visits for heart attacks and asthma. Supporters of the rollback resolution say restricting emissions will raise the cost of electricity.

Senator Inhofe's resolution not only blocks the mercury rules from taking effect, it also would block the EPA from imposing any similar standards on mercury without congressional approval.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI