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PSR Testifies for Reducing Hazardous Air Pollutants

June 3, 2011

At recent hearings held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PSR health professionals spoke out in favor of strong, effective limits on toxic air emissions from power plants.

Click here to read three of those testimonies, supporting a proposed EPA rule that would limit the emissions of mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, acid gases, and other air toxics spewed by oil- and coal-fired power plants. Click here to see a video of the PSR Iowa chapter testifying at the hearing in Chicago.

PSR representatives from the Chicago, Iowa, Philadelphia, and Baltimore/Chesapeake chapters, as well as the national staff, testified in support of the proposed EPA rule.

The proposed rule would result in dramatic reductions in deadly air pollution, capturing 91% of the mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, 91% of their acid gas emissions, and 53% of their sulfur dioxide emissions. 

The public is invited to submit comments to the EPA on this rule.  Click here to sign on to PSR’s prepared comments and email them to the EPA.

Acutely and chronically toxic

Air toxics, known under the Clean Air Act as “hazardous air pollutants,” are a specified list of almost 200 contaminants that are acutely and chronically toxic to people, even in small amounts.  Given how dangerous these substances are, enactment of the rule would pave the way for significant gains in public health.

  • Mercury is a very potent neurotoxicant, highly damaging to the nervous system, and coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury in the food chain.  Mercury pollution falls out of smoke stack pollution and makes its way into our waterways, polluting lakes, streams, and fish.  Eating mercury-contaminated fish is a chief pathway to exposure.

    Fetuses, infants and young children, whose brains and central nervous systems are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to mercury; exposure can result in developmental delays, reduced IQ, mental retardation, and behavioral problems.

    As a result, mercury pollution from power plants reduces our children’s ability to learn and robs them – and our society – of their full mental and human potential.

  • Acid gases like hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride irritate the eyes, nose, throat, skin, and breathing passages; damage our lungs; and contribute to asthma, bronchitis and other chronic respiratory disease, especially in children and the elderly.

    Acid gases also contribute to acid rain, harming forests and crops.

  • Volatile organic compounds like benzene, xylene, and formaldehyde irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, impair lung function, cause delayed response to visual stimulus and memory loss, and can cause cancer.  In addition, VOCs contribute greatly to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, which is a pollutant that causes asthma attacks, aggravates other chronic lung diseases, and aggravates preexisting heart diseases like angina.

    Particulate pollution, while not specifically regulated by this rule, would be reduced as a beneficial side effect.  Particulates contribute to premature death and a wide range of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

More information is available in PSR’s new report on the Clean Air Act.

Affects huge numbers of people

Emissions of mercury, heavy metals and hazardous air pollutants take an extreme and unacceptable toll on the American public, especially on vulnerable populations:  children, the elderly, people with previously existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, and people who eat large amounts of fish from mercury-contaminated waters.

At the same time, air toxics can affect anyone.  The soaring increase in asthma, which affects people of all racial and ethnic groups and all income levels, illustrates that point.

That’s why PSR urges the EPA to establish and enforce a strong mercury and air toxics rule.  Add your name to PSR’s comments to the EPA today.

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