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Dr. Yolanda Whyte's Comments to EPA

Yolanda Whyte, MD, a Board member of PSR Florida. These are her comments before an EPA hearing on water pollution from coal plants on July 9, 2013.  More information here.

Good afternoon. 

My name is Dr. Yolanda Whyte; I am a primary care pediatrician and environmental health expert with nearly a decade of experience caring for the health and well-being of children, especially those with special needs and those affected by health disparities and environmental injustices.  I am the Community Outreach Director for the Environmental Health Task Force of the National Medical Association, which is the largest and oldest African-American physician group in the country.  I am also a Board member of the Florida chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

I am concerned with the proposed rule under review at this afternoon’s hearing, including the pretreatment standard for coal waste.

There is an increasing body of research that continues to highlight health disparities of economically disadvantaged communities that reside near coal-fired power plants.  The NAACP also has an excellent Coal Blooded report you may want to refer to.  The chemicals that are discharged from coal plants drastically impact the health and quality of life of nearby residents who are already disproportionately affected by asthma, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other chronic diseases, which are all preventable. 

EPA plays a more effective role than physicians in preventing these conditions by implementing stringent effluent limitation guidelines that can reduce the impacts of harmful pollutants.  Stringent guidelines will ensure that harmful substances such as cadmium, lead, mercury, arsenic, selenium, thallium and other toxic pollutants do not make their way into the water bodies of these communities.

As a practicing pediatrician, I am deeply concerned that children are exposed to a greater dose of these toxins due to their smaller body weight, their early exposure when their organs are still in development.  Even trace exposures can be devastating, especially to the fetus.

There is a disturbing relationship between these heavy metals and the rising incidence of autism which is now seen in 1:50 children.  The cost of treating autism is estimated at $7.9B annually, according a 2011 report published in Health Affairs. 

I am also concerned about the correlations between these radionuclides and the rapidly rising rate of pediatric cancer, which has an estimated cost of $95 million.  No child or family should have to suffer. 

I am deeply and personally concerned that 11 of my 13 local rivers are impaired with heavy metals and radionuclides, and this is according to the EPA’s My Environment analysis for my zip code. 

The EPA must require zero discharges of these deadly chemicals into our waterways, mandate evaporation treatment of chemical-laden wastewaters so that dry waste can be safely disposed in secure landfills, and address the threat to health from all toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants by finalizing the coal ash rule that the agency has already proposed. This is not only an important step for environmental protection; it is a public health imperative.

Thank you.

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  • Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit

    The Toolkit is a combination of easy-to-use reference guides for health providers and user-friendly health education materials on preventing exposures to toxic chemicals and other substances that affect infant and child health. Read more »