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Utahns Praise Historic Mercury And Toxics Safeguards





Physicians, public health professionals and environmentalists from across Utah today applauded the EPA for releasing its first-ever national safeguards on emissions of acid gases and toxic metals, including mercury, from coal-burning power plants.


Wednesday’s new protections – called the “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards” – were more than 20 years in the making. They are expected to significantly reduce emissions of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin threatening the health of people, fish, and wildlife worldwide.


“Mercury contamination in Utah is a problem for everyone from unborn children to Great Salt Lake waterfowl,” says Dr. Maunsel Pearce, a retired thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon and the environmental representative on the Utah Division of Water Quality’s Statewide Mercury Group. “Today’s safeguards are an important step towards reducing the presence of these toxic substances in our bodies and environment.”


Mercury is a potent toxin linked to everything from premature births to learning difficulties among children to asthma to heart disease. Its greatest impacts are on the developing unborn child, leading to premature births, low birth weights, brain damage and problems with memory, attention, language, and motor skills.


“We applaud federal authorities for acting to protect the most vulnerable members of society from the scourge of deadly coal power plant pollution,” says Cherise Udell, founder and president of Utah Moms for Clean Air.


Mercury is also believed to harm the immune system and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in humans, particularly in adult men.


Research shows that reducing power plant emissions of these toxic gases and metals, including mercury, will prevent thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations. The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, we get $5 to $13 in health benefits.


“Healthcare spending is out of control,” said Dr. Martin Gregory, a professor and nephrologist at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “This EPA decision provides a rare opportunity to improve the health of our community while at the same time saving money.


Coal power plants are the single greatest source of mercury pollution, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of U.S. releases. Utah’s six major coal power plants – Intermountain, Hunter, Huntington, Bonanza, Carbon and Sunnyside – are significant sources of mercury emissions, according to federal data, having released into the air more than 4,500 pounds of mercury over the past 10 years.


In addition, over that same decade, Utah’s six coal-burning power plants have released into the air a combined 10.5 million pounds of hydrochloric acid (which can cause lung damage and contributes to asthma and bronchitis), nearly 13,000 pounds of lead (a neurotoxin), and more than 12,000 pounds of chromium (a cancer-causing carcinogen). These chemicals and others, such as arsenic, are now all covered for the first time under the EPA air toxics safeguards for coal plants.


The coal industry is apparently quite prepared to adapt the new safeguards, which have been years in the making. A report from M.J. Bradley & Associates, which surveyed 11 out of the top 15 largest coal fleet owners in the U.S, said the electric industry can comply with EPA’s air pollution rules without threatening electric system reliability.