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EPA Chips Away at Mercury Rule; Critics Say Communities of Color at Risk

It's estimated that worldwide, around 2,220 metric tons of mercury are emitted each year. (Adobe Stock)
It's estimated that worldwide, around 2,220 metric tons of mercury are emitted each year. (Adobe Stock)
April 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that 2016 air-pollution controls placed on mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants are "neither appropriate nor necessary," citing the cost of compliance.

For now, the regulations will remain in place, but critics say the agency is ignoring the science pointing to mercury as a potent neurotoxin with a host of negative effects on human health.

Harvard University professor in the Kennedy School of Government Joe Aldy said there are deep flaws in the EPA's recent analysis of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, known as "MATS." He said the agency isn't acknowledging the reductions in fine particulate matter that have occurred alongside reductions in mercury pollution.

"When EPA first issued the rule, it explained in a 2011 analysis that the benefits of reducing particulate matter pollution, and thus causing fewer premature mortalities, cases of severe asthma and other respiratory conditions, would be valued in the tens of billions of dollars per year," Aldy said. "This EPA zeroed these out."

A study published in 2017 found that between 2006 and 2016, mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants shrank by 85%.

Dominique Browning, director of the group Moms Clean Air Force, pointed out that if MATS regulations aren't in place, the health burden will fall disproportionately on pregnant women, low-income communities and communities of color, who are more likely to live near industrial power plants.

"Nearly 2 in 5 Latinx live within 30 miles of a power plant, and 68% of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant," Browning said.

Several research studies also have linked pregnant women's exposure to air pollution - including mercury, vehicle exhaust, lead and other sources of outdoor air pollution - to an increased risk of babies being born with autism.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC