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May 30, 1999
Joint Press Release Public Citizen and SEED
EPA Regulations on Mercury Backed
By H. JOSEF HEBERT
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Removing a key obstacle to Environmental Protection Agency
plans to regulate mercury from power plants, a panel of scientists has
concluded that the agency was justified in setting stringent levels of
protection from the toxic substance.
The findings by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences is to be
released in a report Tuesday. It concludes an 18-month review of the science
used by the EPA in establishing new guidelines for protecting the public
from mercury contamination.
The EPA's plans to regulate mercury emissions has been held up for nearly
two years because Congress barred the agency from proceeding until the study
The 10-member panel in its report concludes that methyl-mercury "is
widespread and persistent in the environment" and that the guidelines used
by the EPA to establish maximum exposure levels are "scientifically
justifiable ... for the protection of public health."
A copy of the executive summary of the report was obtained by The Associated
Press from sources familiar with its findings.
While the panel concludes that most Americans face a very low risk, children
of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood during pregnancy face
a much higher risk. It estimates as many as 60,000 children annually may
develop neurological problems, including learning disabilities, because of
low-level mercury contamination through their mother prior to birth.
While much remains to be learned about low-dose mercury contamination and
human health, the study says there is strong evidence to link mercury
exposure to neurological problems, including learning disabilities, as well
as immune system and cardiological problems.
The largest sources of mercury, about 40 tons annually, comes from coal
burning electric power plants. The EPA has sought to develop standards for
regulating these emissions, which often find their way into lakes and
streams and onto pastureland, and eventually into the food chain, especially
But Congress in late 1998 barred the EPA from spending money on any further
development of the mercury regulations, pending a review by the National
Academy of Sciences of "gaps in the scientific data" used by the EPA in
determining mercury's toxicity and potential risk to the public.
Of particular concern were conflicting studies relied upon by the EPA - one
on the health impact of low-level mercury exposure to children in the
Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, and the other in the Faroe Islands
The Faroe study found adverse developmental effects among children whose
mothers, while pregnant, were exposed to relatively low levels of mercury in
fish. But the Seychelles study found no discernible link.
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