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EPA Suppresses Inconvenient Study in Critical Mercury Decision

Friday, April 1, 2005

In the wake of weak mercury pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last week, The Washington Post reported that the EPA failed to include findings from their own study showing stricter protections on mercury emissions benefit human health.

Last week, the Bush Administration and the EPA announced federal weak limits on mercury pollution from dirty coal-burning power plants. The proposal would permit industries to trade pollution allowances instead of following stricter pollution standards. The cost to American industry to reduce mercury emissions, the EPA claimed, would far exceed the human health cost of mercury emissions.

However, the Harvard University study, which was commissioned by the EPA and peer-reviewed by EPA scientists, found the human health benefits of the mercury standards to be 100 times greater than those reported last week. Controlled emissions, similar to those proposed last week, would cut nerve and heart damage while saving the US $5 billion per year. Last week, the EPA announced the human health cost would only total $50 million per year, while the cost to industry would exceed $750 million per year.

The EPA suppressed numbers from their own study to justify weak emissions standards and once again put industry interests over pubic health. The study's findings only enforce EWG's work to reduce mercury emissions from power plants. EWG investigations have documented high levels of mercury pollution in seafood, especially in tuna and swordfish. Pregnant mothers consuming high levels of mercury can harm brain development and reduce IQ in infants and young children in utero.

EWG is using legal channels to appeal another Bush decision on mercury that puts public health at risk: the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) refusal to change its consumer advisory on seafood for pregnant women. The advisory recommends amounts of mercury-tainted seafood that would be unsafe for women to eat. According to EWG's analysis of FDA data, if women follow FDA's advice on "safe" levels of consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood like white (albacore) tuna, 74 percent of American women will go over the safe level for mercury in their blood.

Already 630,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. Besides being bad public health policy, that’s simply wrong. View EWG's work on Mercury and Seafood.