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Published: Monday, 12/12/2011

Hold firm on mercury

Last March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a plan to enact the first national controls on mercury and other airborne toxics generated by electric utilities. Since then, corporate polluters have engaged in stall tactics and shell games to block the rules.

The EPA is under a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 16 to make the new rules final. Regulators must hold tight to the science behind their recommendations, and keep public health ahead of politics.

Ohio is the nation’s second-largest emitter of mercury. The new controls would be expensive, but so are the hidden costs that coal-fired power plants pass on to those who ingest mercury, a potent toxin that attacks the brain and central nervous system.

Mercury is especially harmful to young mothers and children. As it falls from the sky and settles on large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, mercury contaminates fish. The new form created in the water is many times more acute than what comes out of smokestacks.

The EPA estimates its new standards will cut mercury emissions by 91 percent, and help prevent 17,000 premature deaths a year. Health experts have wanted for years to get mercury covered by the federal Clean Air Act, a landmark environmental law.

Clean Air Act improvements aimed at controlling smog-forming ozone and fine particles are projected to prevent 230,000 premature deaths by 2020, the EPA says. The agency says Americans get $5 to $13 in health benefits for every $1 spent on controls at power plants.

Coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air emissions than other sources of industrial pollution. The American Lung Association says such plants are releasing mercury in “staggering” amounts.

Ohio officials can show leadership on this critical issue by supporting federal rules that protect public health over the financial interests of large corporations.

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