---Four leading medical, health care and public health groups will continue their legal challenge of three clean air mercury rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by filing a brief no later than Jan. 26 in a lawsuit now assigned to the DC Circuit Court. The groups will ask the court to overturn the weak EPA rules, which threaten public health. The organizations, representing more than 300,000 health professionals, are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Nurses Association (ANA), American Public Health Association (APHA) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).
Many Americans are exposed to unsafe levels of methyl mercury from environmental sources, including power plant emissions. Methyl mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants make up more than 40% of all such emissions into the U.S. environment, making power plants the single largest source of uncontrolled mercury pollution in the United States.
“Methyl mercury is extremely harmful to a child’s brain, capable of producing permanent neurodevelopmental injury,” said Michael Shannon, MD, MPH, chair of the AAP Committee on Environmental Health.
“Methyl mercury poses serious health risks to both young and old alike,” said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin MD, FACP. “But the risks are disproportionately greater for minorities and people living in underserved communities who are more likely to live in potential toxic hot spots and are at greater risk of exposure.”
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to make public health its first and only priority, and the law mandates that these plants reduce their mercury pollution by up to 90 percent of current emission levels by 2008.
Unfortunately, the EPA’s final mercury rule delays significant mercury reductions for 10 to 15 years longer than the federal Clean Air Act requires. The rule substitutes an inappropriate “cap-and-trade” scheme for strong technology-based pollution control standards. This proposed trading scheme fails to protect individual communities with toxic mercury ‘hot spots,’ local areas of higher mercury concentrations that can result in dangerous levels of human exposure. In fact, a “cap-and-trade” scheme could worsen ‘hot spots’ because certain facilities could emit more mercury.
“Registered nurses see first-hand the effects of our patients’ exposure to methyl mercury,” said ANA President Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR. “The EPA’s approach to the regulation of power plant emissions will permit many areas of intense exposure, and we will see the negative neurological effects on our nation’s children. We can’t stand silently by. Nurses are joining with our colleagues in health care to ask the courts to force the EPA to take proper action to protect the public.”
“Physicians have known for years about the toxic effects of mercury on neurological and developmental health, especially in children. In preventative medicine, the best cure is to keep the mercury from entering the food chain in the first place,” said Michael McCally, PSR executive director. “The existing clean air mercury rule simply fails to do that in an effective manner.”
This is the latest legal action in a series of challenges by the organizations to ensure clean air for all Americans, including children. John Suttles of the Southern Environmental Law Center is representing the groups. One lawsuit covers three EPA rules, and oral arguments in the case are expected sometime next summer or fall. Environmental groups filed their petition today.