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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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EPA Proposes New Mercury Air Pollution Rules

Standards Proposed by Environmental Protection Agency Will Cut Mercury Released by Power Plants

Mercury From Power Plants continued...

Rounding out the top five mercury polluting power plants are Labadie Power Station in Missouri; James H. Miller Jr. Electric Generating Plant in Birmingham, Ala.; and the Limestone Electric Generating Station near Jewett, Texas.

“The pollutants spread all over the country, but they concentrate around these plants,” says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association. “These communities have been suffering for a long, long time.”

Mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and deafness and blindness in fetuses and infants. In even low doses, mercury may cause developmental delays, affecting how long it takes kids to walk and talk. Mercury exposure has also been linked to poor attention spans and learning disabilities.

In adults, mercury exposure has been tied to infertility, memory loss, high blood pressure, and blindness; toxicity can cause numbness in the fingers and toes.

“I’m extremely hopeful that we’ll see big reductions as a result of this rule,” Nolen says.

“Through the commonsense goal of reducing harmful pollution in the air we breathe we’ll save lives, prevent illnesses, and promote vital economic opportunities in communities across the country,” says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in public remarks she made before signing the new rule.

Public Comment Period

The standards must now go through a public comment period before being made final in November. Once the rule goes into effect, power plants will have four years to comply.

The EPA estimates it will cost the energy industry about $11 billion a year to meet the regulations, though Jackson noted that many companies had already voluntarily upgraded their plants.

An estimated 44% of power plants lack advanced pollution control equipment.

Some power companies said the costs could become an unwieldy burden, ultimately causing some plants to close.

“Companies facing multiple emission-control requirements under very tight deadlines would face the biggest challenges related to costs and possibly jobs,” says Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, an industry lobbying group.

Riedinger says he hopes that the EPA will be flexible in working with energy producers.

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