Michigan Scientists Urge Congress to Support Clean Air

BY ON April 9, 2012

This piece was originally posted by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Environmental Law and Policy Center logoANN ARBOR – University and college scientists and researchers have signed a letter calling on Michigan’s congressional delegation to support the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) recently filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The scientists and researchers, 117 in total, represent a broad range of academic backgrounds and work at private and public colleges across Michigan.

“Humans and wildlife that eat fish can be exposed to hazardous levels of methyl mercury. Because residents of Michigan and the rest of the country are exposed to this pollutant, there needs to be a federal control on the emissions of mercury,” said Joel Blum, John D MacArthur Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan.

The future of Michigan’s own mercury emissions rule is unclear because a state advisory committee recommended rescinding it once a federal rule is filed. The scientists support the Michigan rule, but know it doesn’t go far enough to protect the health and well-being of residents.

“As part of a team of researchers, I have found mercury remains a major pollutant of concern in the Great Lakes,” said Nil Basu, Assistant Professor in U-M’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health. “All of us have detectable levels of mercury in our body.”

Much of the mercury deposited in Michigan comes from coal-fired power plants in other states, which is why a federal standard is even more crucial to protecting the public health of Michigan families. For every $1 spent on reducing toxic emissions by upgrading power plants, the EPA estimates there is $6 to $9 in economic benefits, mostly related to lowered health care costs.

“State fish advisories like Michigan’s promote a policy that allows significant mercury contamination to remain in place while relying on the vulnerable populations to change their fish-consumption behavior,” said Jerome Nriagu, Professor in U-M’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health. “The regulators are helping to perpetuate an unequal burden of mercury exposure in communities of the Great Lakes.”

Altogether, signers included nearly 60 scientists and researchers from the University of Michigan and more than a dozen from Michigan State University. Signers also included scientists and researchers from Wayne State University, Hope College, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Eastern Michigan University, Calvin College, Michigan Technological University, Grand Valley State University, and Ferris State University.

Blum, Basu and Nriagu participated in a statewide telephone news conference Thursday discussing the letter, along with Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The letter was delivered this week to Michigan’s two U.S. Senators and 15 U.S. Representatives. Read the letter here.

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TOPICS: Coal, Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Michigan, Pollution