This is a guest post by Madeline Buthod for the Richmond Daily News:
Like many Missouri moms, I was thrilled when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new rules on Dec. 21 to safeguard us from mercury pollution. Since pregnant women and children are most at risk from mercury pollution, moms and kids stand to gain the most from this rule.
In fact, I am not only the mother of an elementary school aged boy, but I am pregnant and due to have another baby in May. Of course I am eagerly anticipating the birth of my new child, and I know that breast-feeding will be the healthiest option for feeding my baby.
You can imagine how upset I was when I learned that, according to the EPA one out of six women of childbearing age in the U.S. has so much mercury in her body that it is risky for her to breastfeed her baby. Where is the mercury problem coming from? The main culprit is literally “in the air.” Thanks to corporate polluters like Ameren, owner of the dirty Labadie coal-fired power plant that is the biggest mercury emitter in the state, air pollution is making us sick. The Labadie plant alone emitted 1,297 pounds of mercury in 2009. Other top emitters of mercury pollution in Missouri include coal plants like Thomas Hill in Clifton Hill, Iatan in Weston, the Southwest plant in Springfield.
Thankfully, on Dec. 21 the EPA issued long-overdue updates to the Clean Air Act that would limit toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants. The new standard will reduce power plant emissions of heavy metals including mercury, as well as arsenic, lead, chromium and nickel.
These “air toxics” are a special class of pollutants that are extremely harmful to human health, even in small amounts. Air toxics are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, reproductive problems, immune system damage, eye irritation, and even premature death.
Mercury is the most nefarious air toxic, especially for Missouri children. Coal-fired power plants in Missouri emit 3,900 thousand pounds of toxic mercury into the air each year. Mercury then falls to earth in rain and snow, contaminates our rivers, lakes, and streams, and accumulates in fish in an even-more toxic form called methyl mercury.
Anyone who eats fish is at risk. Mercury exposure can cause brain damage, developmental delays and neurological problems in fetuses, infants and children, whose brain and nerve tissue is still developing. This means lower IQs, learning disabilities, and developmental disorders like autism in Missouri children. In adults, mercury exposure can cause tremors, inability to walk, convulsions – and even death.
With such alarming effects, it’s no surprise that medical professionals wholeheartedly support the EPA’s proposed limits on mercury and air toxics. In fact, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association sued to impose a court-ordered deadline on the EPA to enact new clean air protections.
Doctors are also eager for the mercury and air toxics standard to reduce the number of emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and medical bills that are driving skyrocketing healthcare costs and hurting our economy. The EPA estimates that the proposed mercury and air toxics standard will avoid up to 17,000 premature deaths and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma incidences, and save between $57 billion to $140 billion dollars in health costs, every year. This will be accomplished by installing commercially available pollution-control technology on power plants in Missouri and throughout the nation.
For decades, the EPA had excluded coal-fired power plants from limits on mercury emissions, and today nearly half of coal-burning power plants still do nothing to reduce their toxic air pollution. The time has come for the EPA to cut mercury and its devastating health effects off at the source: dirty coal-fired power plants.
Missouri moms are fed up with coal’s dirty air pollution making our families sick. It is time for all Missourians to stand up and support the new EPA safeguards!
Madeline Buthod lives in St. Louis with her husband and son. Missouri Forum