If someone walked up to you and asked you to drink a glass filled with mercury, would you do it? Probably not. Unfortunately, this situation is quickly becoming a reality with Bush's attitude toward mercury pollution. Another report just came out, citing his administration for hiding the truth about the dangers
of mercury, putting humans at serious risk:
The Bush administration overlooked health effects and sided with the electric industry in developing rules for cutting toxic mercury pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general said Thursday.
The agency fell short of its own requirements and presidential orders by "not fully analyzing the cost-benefit of regulatory alternatives and not fully assessing the rule's impact on children's health," the agency's internal watchdog said in a 54-page report.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set the limits based on the most advanced pollution controls used by industry. Tinsley said agency workers were instructed by "EPA senior management" to develop a standard compared with other regulations and a White House legislative plan, "instead of basing the standard on an unbiased determination" of the limits.
Mercury is one of the most dangerous pollutants known today. It is especially dangerous to pregnant women as the fetus is highly vulnerable during development, particularily its nervous system. Prolonged exposure to mercury can also cause brain damage and damage the lungs, kidneys, and heart.
So how does it enter the environment? First, it should be pointed out that mercury is naturally occurring, with an amount of less than 0.08 parts per million. The most common form is mineral cinnabar. Another naturally occurring source is from volcanic eruptions when gas is releases into the atmosphere. This level is low enough as to not affect human health.
However, mercury can also be introduced into the environment artificially. The main source of the mercury is from coal burning, causing it to be airborne, but can result from other processes such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint spills, and oil refinery.
The problem with mercury in the environment is that it gets concentrated in the food chain. When introduced into the environment from coal burning, the mercury is suspended in the air, where it can travel in the atmosphere for many miles. Eventually, the mercury will precipitate to the surface, either into the water or the soil. Some organisms, like fish, will consume small amounts of mercury when they feed. Larger fish will eat several of the fish that consumed the mercury, causing the small amounts of mercury in each of the fish to accumulate into larger, more dangerous amounts. The more contaminated fish eaten results in more accumulated mercury. Eventually, humans may feed on these fish with high amounts of mercury in them. Eating several of the contaminated fish will cause humans to buildup mercury in their systems. This is why there are advisories about eating too many fish, especially where pollution may be high.
One of the main reasons mercury is so dangerous is because it is insoluble inside the human body in most cases, and can't be removed from the body easily. By the time mercury is inside the human body, biogeochemical processes have converted mercury the organic molecule methylmercury. The mercury will bind to the sulfhydryl groups of enzymes and proteins, thereby inactivating vital cell functions and ultimately killing the cell. More mercury inside the body will result in the death of more cells. If the dead cells are in a place like the lungs or heart, these dead cells can cause serious harm to humans, potentially killing them.
So basically, once the mercury is inside the body, there isn't much one can do about it, except avoid ingesting more mercury. The logical thing, therefore, is to prevent mercury from even being introduced into the environment before it can do damage. But this can sometimes be difficult. Coal contains minor amount of mercury, so burning any amount of coal can potentially release mercury into the environment.
The good news is that less and less mercury is being put into our environment. The Clean Air Act, put in effect in 1990, has significantly helped reduced mercury pollution. However, Bush has proposed modifying the Clean Air Act, something he termed the "Clear Skies Initiative". As usual, Bush's environmental proposals reward big businesses and hurting common people. From the Sierra Club:
The EPA estimates that enforcement of existing toxic air pollution protections in the Clean Air Act will limit mercury pollution to 5 tons per year by 2008. The Bush Administration's plan weakens the limit to 26 tons per year by 2010 - allowing 520 percent more mercury pollution. A new EPA report discusses the ways pregnant women pass mercury on to their babies, causing mental retardation, but why did the Administration sit on the report for more than nine months and only release it after journalists exposed their findings?
There is proposed legislation that can force power plants to reduce their emissions by up to 90%, but is Bush campaigning for it? No. Here's what he has proposed:
On January 30, 2004, the Bush administration formally proposed a plan with a goal of reducing mercury emissions ultimately to 15 tons in 2018, as well as allows pollution trading. The Bush administration is taking much longer and allowing three times more mercury pollution for decades into our air, and ultimately our waterways and food, than enforcement of current clean air laws allows.
The Bush administration plan also calls for a cap-and-trade program that may leave some communities at risk for more hazardous air pollution than others. Also, the Bush administration is referring to this proposal as a mercury reduction plan, but it is important to remember that this Bush administration proposal should be for all hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from power plants, not just mercury.
Caps and trades is a way of allowing plants to get around the regulations by voluntarily reducing the amount of emissions in exchange for monetary breaks. But note that these are voluntary, not mandatory. One reason plants are against this is because they believe that implementing these regulations will cost them too much money and wouldn't be worth it. But isn't it worth it to spend a little extra money to help preserve the environment?
Apparently to Bush, it's not worth it. The Bush Administration needs to stop the deception and support legislation that would be most effective in preventing mercury pollution. It's in the best interest of everybody that he does so.
Also posted at my blog