National health organizations join lawsuit to fight mercury emissions

October 1, 2005

In a move that hasn't been seen since the medical community fought to remove lead from household paints and gasoline, several national health organizations have joined a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency alleging that a finalized rule on mercury emissions fails to protect fetuses and children from the toxin's harm.

In a move that hasn't been seen since the medical community fought to remove lead from household paints and gasoline, several national health organizations have joined a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency alleging that a finalized rule on mercury emissions fails to protect fetuses and children from the toxin's harm. The health groups are challenging the EPA's decision to provide an exemption to coal- and oil-fired power plants-the nation's largest source of mercury emissions-from the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act requires power plants to "use the best available technology to reduce mercury emissions," according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/27/05). This requirement would have reduced mercury emissions from plants by 90% by 2008. However, the EPA's final rule allows power plants to reduce emissions by about 24% by 2010, and then 70% by 2018.

It's estimated that as many as 637,233 infants each year are born with cord blood mercury levels greater than 5.8 mg/L. This mercury level has been associated with the loss of IQ; methyl mercury also contributes to developmental delays and learning disabilities.