Wildlife, Public Health Advocates Urge Tougher Limits on Toxic Air Pollutants

EPA hears public comments on new limits on emissions of mercury and several other toxic pollutants

05-24-2011 // Tony Iallonardo

Clean air advocates urged the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to act quickly to rein in mercury, arsenic, dioxin and toxic air pollution rules at EPA’s hearings in Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta this week. The EPA is soliciting public comments on new rules to limit many forms of pollution toxic to people and wildlife.

[Photo at left - Children submitting comments to EPA drew fish to show their concern at the Chicago hearing]

Hunters and anglers from around the country have been turning out to the hearings to testify. In Chicago, Brenda Archambo of Michigan was among them.

“Michigan’s wildlife and natural resources are the backbone of Michigan’s $5 billion recreational tourism economy,” testified Archambo, an angler and president of Sturgeon For Tomorrow, at the Chicago hearing. “Whether it is a moose in the Upper Peninsula, muskie in Lake St. Clair, or the iconic lake sturgeon in the Northern Lower Peninsula, wildlife helps define Michigan's sense of place.”

Citing the poor health of the Susquehanna River, Don Robertson, president of the Pennsylvania Izaak Walton League of America, told EPA officials at the Philadelphia hearing that as a lifelong hunter and fisherman, anglers who fish in Pennsylvania's waters “cannot eat many of the fish that we catch” because of mercury pollution.  He applauded EPA “for taking this appropriate, significant, and long overdue step to protect public and environmental health.”

EPA is receiving public comments on new limits on emissions of mercury and several other toxic pollutants released from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. Airborne mercury settles into waterways and accumulates in fish tissues and moves up the food chain. The toxin has been found in waterfowl, walleye, perch, bass, muskie and sturgeon, which Archambo maintained are “all revered as part of our state’s angling, hunting and conservation heritage.”

“EPA must move forward and finalize a strong Mercury and Air Toxics rule in order to protect public health and our treasured wildlife from toxic pollution,” testified John Hammond, NWF’s Southeast region executive director at the Atlanta hearing.  “It is time for the owners and operators of these facilities to be finally held responsible and accountable for their preventable toxic emissions.”

Father and daughter fishing

Every state has issued a fish advisory of some type because of unsafe mercury levels according to NWF’s recent report, “Game Changers.” Roughly half of U.S. lakes and reservoirs have mercury amounts exceeding safe levels and nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, according to EPA. Over half of human-caused mercury in the U. S. comes from coal-fired plants.

Mercury can also affect the human nervous system. At certain levels, mercury is particularly dangerous to babies and young children. In adults, mercury can harm peripheral vision, cause muscle weakness, affect coordination and impair speech, hearing and walking.

Anglers, hunters, sportsmen, public health advocates, the faith community, mothers and mothers-to-be attended the hearings in support of EPA’s proposals. Several described how at higher levels, mercury can impair babies’ and young children’s brains and developing nervous systems.

Pennsylvania emits almost twice as much mercury as the third place state, and has 4 of the 10 dirtiest power plants in our country,” said Ken Undercoffer, president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. “Emissions from these plants play a direct role in contaminating our waters, forests, and wildlife with mercury.”

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