EPA protects public from mercury but not lead

A rule that will significantly reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants throughout the US has been announced this week by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Taken together with the recent Clean Air Interstate Rule, the new Clean Air Mercury Rule will reduce electric utility mercury emissions by nearly 70% from 1999 levels once it has been fully implemented, according to the agency.

“This rule marks the first time the United States has regulated mercury emissions from power plants,” acting Administrator Steve Johnson stated. “In so doing, we become the first nation in the world to address this remaining source of mercury pollution.”

Limiting emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants, the rule will create a cap-and-trade programme that will permanently cap utility mercury emissions in two phases, couple with significant penalties for non-compliance.

However, according to US organisation Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), while Mr Johnson has clamped down on mercury, he has balked at taking steps towards protecting urban children and residential construction workers from the hazards of lead-based paint.

This will mean the national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning will still remain beyond reach, PEER has stated.

The principle source of lead dust exposure to US children is from renovation and repair jobs on older buildings, and federal studies have shown that the vast majority of the 30 million of these projects carried out each year are done without employing safe clean-up and contamination practices.

Consequently, these renovations kick up significant amounts of lead dust that are creating long-term exposure and possible health problems for residents.

“The Bush Administration has walked away from the national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by 2010, in the process leaving 1.4 million children behind,” PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said.

“EPA has abdicated its public health responsibilities by glomming onto a voluntary programme without a scintilla of evidence that their preferred ‘non regulatory’ approach actually works.”

But the EPA insisted that it was dedicated to reducing pollution levels across the country.

“We remain committed to working with Congress to help advance the President’s Clear Skies legislation in order to achieve greater certainty and nationwide emissions reductions,” Mr Johnson stated. “But we need regulations in place now.”

By Jane Kettle

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