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Mass. Mom Questions Wheeler as Choice to Head EPA

Pregnant women are advised not to eat fish with high mercury levels, one of the reasons some are concerned about the new head of the EPA's deregulatory agenda, including efforts to roll back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. (Dale Cruse/Flickr)
Pregnant women are advised not to eat fish with high mercury levels, one of the reasons some are concerned about the new head of the EPA's deregulatory agenda, including efforts to roll back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. (Dale Cruse/Flickr)
January 18, 2019

AMHERST, Mass. – A group of ten moms visited Capitol Hill this week to oppose Andrew Wheeler's confirmation as EPA administrator.

This environmental fight is personal for one Massachusetts mother. Gazit Chaya Nkosi says her child suffered from lead poisoning as a baby.

Now, the Amherst woman is a volunteer with Moms Clean Air Force. Nkosi came to Washington with her seven-year-old, Galileo, who was exposed to toxic levels of lead in their home.

"That has had an ongoing impact,” says Nkosi. “But one of the first realizations that we had was that Galileo's teeth came in without enamel. And we had to go to the dentist 21 times in the course of two years."

Nkosi wants to make sure that Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, continues to hold Wheeler accountable. She is concerned about Wheeler's deregulatory agenda, including efforts to roll back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule.

Pregnant women and babies are especially vulnerable to mercury neurotoxins, which increase the chances of brain damage, and hearing and vision problems, in young children.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule was finalized in 2011, imposing limits on mercury emissions from power plants. Nkosi describes the impact this has had in the Commonwealth, according to data from the EPA.

"Just in Massachusetts, the impact of mercury pollution has gone down 95 percent since those standards have been in place, which is remarkable,” says Nkosi. “And we've saved over a billion dollars on healthcare."

Dominique Browning, co-founder and senior director of Moms Clean Air Force, says the standard so far has been successfully implemented at many coal-fired power plants.

"The coal industry put these scrubbers on their plants and they realized that, in fact, it didn't cost anywhere near as much as they thought it was going to cost to put on these protections," says Browning.

At the hearing, Wheeler said he plans to keep the mercury-reducing scrubbers that are currently in place. But there's a new proposal from the EPA to recalculate and lower the estimated benefits, such as healthcare savings, from the mercury rules.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA