By: Karin Stein, Iowa field coordinator, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: February 24, 2022
About: Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants: Proposed Reaffirmation of the Appropriate and Necessary Finding, Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2018–0794
To: Environmental Protection Agency
Good morning. My name is Karin Stein. I am the Iowa organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a national community of over one million moms and dads united against air pollution and the causes of climate change. I am also Iowa organizer for EcoMadres, a program of Moms Clean Air Force’s that empowers Latinas and Latinos in fighting for clean air and against the climate crisis.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify today in favor of the restoration of the appropriate and necessary finding of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and to express myself in favor of taking further steps to strengthen these standards.
The website of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources currently has 26 fish consumption advisories listed for various Iowa lakes and rivers. Of those 26 advisories, 24 (92%) are for mercury in fish, and 2 are for PCBs. The advisories state that no more than one portion of fish from these locations should be eaten per week.
You and I know that NO AMOUNT of mercury is safe to eat, but most people aren’t aware of this. Most people don’t even stop to think about what MIGHT be in the fish while peacefully enjoying time on pretty lakes and picturesque rivers. Most people don’t go onto websites to check out the latest advisories, which are typically spotty and not necessarily up to date.
Neither you nor I would eat the fish from these 26 Iowa water bodies, whether we are pregnant or not, whether we have small children that will eat the fish we catch or not. Yet most people don’t know how horrible the effects of mercury are on developing fetuses and small children.
Compared to other states in the USA, I am in a somewhat tangential position to testify about coal plants, because we have few active coal plants left in Iowa compared to even five years ago. As a trained scientist, however, I am always curious to find connections among sets of data, so I mapped out where the fish advisories in our state are concentrated, and I noticed—quite quickly albeit informally—that the lake advisories are concentrated almost exclusively in the southern and southeastern counties of our state, which is where our most polluting industries, a couple of the remaining coal plants, and our remaining coal mines are located.
Then I mapped out where the fish advisories for rivers are concentrated, and they are concentrated in northeastern Iowa, roughly downstream from the last remaining coal plants in Minnesota, and also downstream from unlined coal ash storage ponds of retired plants within Iowa.
This hearing is focused on Mercury and Air Toxic Standards for coal plants and not coal mines or coal ash storage ponds. The fact is, however, that things are interconnected and that we have problems with fish mercury advisories in Iowa.
I live on the edge of a state park, 200 feet from a lake. I see who fishes there: middle aged and older men mostly, likely because they are retired. On weekends, the picture changes, and I hear children frolicking around the water. On my walks I greet young families, most of them multigenerational Latino and Asian families for whom spending time fishing with the whole family is a cultural tradition. I have gotten to know the small children, and I chat with the young, pregnant moms about when they are due and how they are feeling. We compare notes about parenting and chat about the nice weather. Afraid to burst their bubble, I mention to them that our lake has high concentrations of certain farm chemicals, and they should be careful not to feed the fish to the children. I feel badly, because it is not my role to tell them what to do; I am their causal friend. But I also work for Moms Clean Air Force and pay attention to air and water. They laugh and say, “Oh, it’ll be OK, don’t worry.”
I will say something in Spanish now to remind ourselves that access to essential information is often hindered by language barriers: “Yo sé que familias similares con niños pequenos y madres embarazadas se recrean y pescan también en los lagos y ríos con advertencias acerca de los niveles de mercurio en los pece.” I said, “I know that similar families with small children and pregnant women spend weekends on the shores of lakes and streams with mercury advisories.”
You know the implications, and you know that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been clearly successful in slashing mercury pollution by more than 80% nationwide.
I am here today to plead with the EPA, in the name of all families with young children and pregnant moms, regardless of their cultural background and regardless of where they live in this country, to restore the appropriate and necessary finding of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and I ask that you please take further steps to strengthen these critical safeguards.