Washington, D.C., March 16, 2012 – Today five professional medical societies and public health groups took legal action to support public health safeguards that reduce mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a motion to intervene in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which set long-overdue limits on the emissions of hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
These groups acted to support the EPA’s official limits on toxic emissions from the 600 coal- and oil-fired power plants located in more than 40 U.S. states. Not only are these power plants the largest producers of mercury pollution, they emit more than 80 of the 187 hazardous pollutants identified for control by the Clean Air Act. Many of these pollutants, such as dioxins, arsenic, and lead, can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some harm the kidneys, lungs, and nervous system. Others can kill. The groups support the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as the best way to reduce these pollutants and prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year.
“The dangerous health risks associated with coal-burning power plants are no longer elusive, distant threats,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Blocking these standards could mean the difference between a chronic debilitating, expensive illness or healthy life for hundreds of thousands of American children and adults.”
Big polluters have fought and delayed implementing tighter standards for more than twenty years. Now, they and their allies have filed challenges to the EPA on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards before the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. Refuting those challenges is why the medical societies and public health groups filed papers to intervene today.
“Children and pregnant women need protection from mercury, because of the harm it does to developing neurological systems, resulting in learning disabilities and birth defects,” said Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP, president, American Academy of Pediatrics. “We should all work to protect children from such a devastating threat, or from arsenic, dioxins or other toxic pollutants from these power plants.”
These five groups support the Standards because of the expected public health benefits that will begin once the controls are in place. The EPA has estimated that reducing the emissions of these toxic air pollutants will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits.
The EPA also estimates that cleaning up these emissions will provide $3 to $9 in healthcare and economic benefits for every $1 spent on clean-up. Yet, cleaning up mercury and toxic air pollution will probably benefit public health more than the EPA has calculated.
“PSR has worked for over 20 years for this standard. Economic models don’t begin to calculate all the health benefits from avoiding more than 80 toxic emissions from these power plants,” explained Catherine Thomasson, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility. “For example, cancers from these toxic emissions, or damage to kidneys, liver and reproductive systems, were not included. Those benefits are in addition to the quantifiable terrific public health savings.”
Power plants are by far the biggest emitters of many toxic air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic and acid gases. Among the pollutants that this rule would limit are recognized carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, and dioxins and metals such as beryllium, chromium, nickel and lead.
“Nurses are here today to support EPA’s efforts to close a toxic loophole that has existed for 20 years by updating standards to protect Americans all across the country from hazardous air pollution,” said Amy Garcia, MSN, RN, CAE, Chief Programs Officer of the American Nurses Association. “Without these standards, more people will suffer—and even die—unnecessarily. We need these standards in place, protecting our patients and our families.”
“Attempts to delay or dismantle the Clean Air Act, or rules like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, reward industry polluters and punish those most vulnerable to dirty air,” said Albert Rizzo, MD, Chairman of the Board for the American Lung Association. “These new standards mark a huge step forward in clean air protections and will be responsible for saving thousands of lives each year.”
“Protecting American lives and the health of our children from toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollution is a core Clean Air Act requirement that cannot be delayed further by politics and polluter profit margins,” said John Suttles, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney representing the five health groups in today’s filing. “Defending national limits on toxic emissions from big polluters promotes our clients’ commitment to protecting the health of American families—from vulnerable newborns to senior citizens.”