EPA Announces New Standards To Reduce Mercury Contamination From Power Plant Emissions

This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a set of national regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide.

According to the EPA, the new limits could save upwards of 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks each year, along with preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

The EPA also estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits.

“By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health- and especially for the health of our children. With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance.”

The EPA states that power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75% of the acid gas emissions in the U.S.

The good news is that a majority of coal-fired plants currently have pollution control technology that should allow them to meet the new standards. Though about 40% of coal-fired power plants will need further upgrades.

“The health risks that mercury exposure poses are serious, especially since those most at risk are children and other vulnerable populations,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Mercury from large industrial sources contaminates the air we breathe and common foods that many Americans eat. Regulating mercury emissions is just a common sense way to protect consumers from these health hazards and today’s announcement is a critical step towards that goal… The health benefits of this rule are clear, and today’s announcement follows the example set by the Clean Air Act by protecting public health in a cost effective manner.”