New EPA Action on Mercury is a Game Changer

from Wildlife Promise

Today,  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new proposed limits on the mercury, arsenic, dioxin, and other toxic air pollutants spewing from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. (See EPA’s press release and rule here). The release of these hazardous pollutants into our air comes at a huge cost to our economy and poses numerous and severe impacts our nation’s public health.

And as the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) new report released today entitled “Game Changers: Air Pollution, a Warming Climate, and the Troubled Future for America’s Hunting and Fishing Heritage” shows,  mercury and other air pollutants directly impact numerous species, including black ducks, moose, and walleye, that are revered as part of our country’s angling, hunting and conservation heritage.

  • To take action to protect these species and to support new limits on mercury and other toxic air pollution click here.

For years, NWF has been a champion in calling for reductions in mercury pollution to protect our health and wildlife. (Read NWF’s 2006 report on mercury here). The work has included pushing the Bush Administration to complete the work started under President Clinton to address this issue, and then joining a lawsuit to overturn a first set of flawed and insufficient standards.

Mercury emitted from power plants settles from the air into our waterways where it’s converted into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury.  As contaminated organisms in the water are eaten by larger organisms and accumulated up the food chain the result is that many large and long-lived predators end up with high levels of methylmercury contamination.   As a result, when we eat these species, such as fish, we are exposed to the mercury.  This exposure can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Children are especially at risk because the exposure can interfere with the nerve development in their brains.  (Find out more about the health impacts of toxic air pollutants by reading the American Lung Association’s new report here).

EPA Action Will Address Mercury in Walleye

For me, it is the example of the walleye that bring the issue of mercury exposure close to home.  While I didn’t grow up in Minnesota or South Dakota where the walleye is the state fish, every summer my family would head up to our friends’ cabin on Lake Nippissing, Ontario.  Mornings and early evenings were focused on trying to catch walleye.  The goal was to ensure at least one splendid fish fry dinner and maxing out on your limit of six fish to bring home to get you through the Buffalo winter (sorry no ice fishing here).  To the right is a picture of my dad (center) hauling in a particularly big one. 

As our new report describes, walleye face a triple whammy from mercury, acid rain, and carbon pollution. Most Great Lakes states have posted a statewide advisory for all inland waters due to mercury contamination. Women of child-bearing years, nursing mothers, and anyone under the age of 15 are advised not to eat more than one walleye meal per month.  (Read NWF’s mercury factsheet here listing the number of advisories in your state here.) (Check out Wisconsin’s walleye advisory here.)   

Studies also suggest that that the acidification of lakes caused, in part, by acid gas pollution from power plants also controlled by EPA’s new rules could also be winnowing away walleye populations. And the unlimited release of carbon pollution and the resulting warming climate is literally changing the world around the walleye as warming water temperatures lakes are decimating walleye’s a major prey.

All these impacts are just a few examples of why we need to make sure Congress keeps its hands off the Clean Air Act and lets the EPA do its job of protecting the public and the environment from air pollution.  Today’s EPA rules are a terrific start.

The new rules will:

  • Cut harmful emissions of mercury as well as arsenic, chromium, nickel, and acid gases
  • Prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year
  • Benefit children’s health by preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.
  • Avoid more than 12,000 emergency room and hospital visits and 850,000 missed work days due to illness.

These are just some of the many important reasons why the National Wildlife Federation supports EPA’s action today and encourages you to add your voice to those standing up for clean air to protect wildlife and our public health.

For more information and to find out how to support the EPA’s new rule visit: www.nwf.org/cleanair