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December 21, 2011

We Did It! Americans Cheer EPA for First-Ever Protections Against Toxic Mercury

Mercury hearing
People rallying at the Philadelphia EPA mercury hearing. Photo by SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Are you one of the over 800,000 people who submitted a comment to the Environmental Protection Agency supporting proposed mercury pollution protections? Are you one of the hundreds who attended a public hearing in Chicago, Atlanta, or Philadelphia to support the draft standards? Are you one of the hundreds who attended a hair testing event to check your mercury levels, organized a stroller brigade with fellow parents, or joined a rally to get these protections across the finish line?

If so, then today you should celebrate, because you helped win a historic victory for our health. Today we are all applauding the EPA and the Obama Administration for issuing the first-ever nationwide protections against toxic mercury from dirty power plants. Hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke up for these vital safeguards via public comments, rallies, hearings, mercury teach-ins, and so much more. This is an epic victory we can all call our own.

No longer will the coal industry get away with poisoning our families. Mercury is a dangerous brain poison that can hinder children's growth and development and cause neurological problems in young children.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, pumping more than 33 tons of this dangerous toxin into our air each year, and seeping into our water and the fish we eat.

As I reflect on this remarkable achievement, I also find myself thinking about the day I learned I was pregnant with my daughter Hazel, who is now one-and-a-half. It was a miraculous feeling, knowing that I was bringing a baby into the world. I pledged to eat right, exercise, and take care of myself, so that I could give her the best possible start in life. I also hoped I hadn't eaten too much fish high in mercury in the months prior to getting pregnant, since I knew I would be passing all that mercury to my baby in the womb. Thankfully, my mercury levels were low and Hazel is a happy, healthy toddler.   

Mercury hearing2With these new protections in place, moms and dads of the future may have one less thing to worry about. Women and young children will be protected by these new safeguards – a critical move because each and every year, more than 300,000 babies are born who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the womb. These protections against toxic mercury will slash mercury pollution by over 90 percent from every single coal plant in America, and will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and young children.

This historic announcement comes after more than two years of amazing grassroots work to raise awareness about mercury pollution and show support for mercury protections. I think of all the people who held or participated in mercury hair testing events, got postcards signed, attended or organized around a hearing, held or attended any of the dozens of other mercury awareness events organized nationwide, or submitted one of the more than 800,000 supportive comments received by EPA – the largest number of comments ever submitted to EPA on any issue.

Congress required reductions of mercury and other air toxics from power plants way back in 1990, when they passed amendments to the Clean Air Act, but the coal industry had succeeded in blocking the standards for over two decades. Now, the wait is over, and these long-overdue protections are finally in place.

I hope everyone will join me in thanking President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for listening to Americans and for their leadership and courage in issuing these mercury protections. We are thrilled with today's announcement – a historic victory for clean air, clean water, and healthy families. Congratulations to one and all!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign


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