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How Weakened Mercury Restrictions Could Impact Public Health, Concern over EPA Proposal


Environmental and Health researchers at Syracuse University and Harvard University are worried regulations on mercury emissions could be eased.  That could mean more mercury contamination in seafood and elsewhere that is shown to have direct impacts on health.   

The Syracuse and Harvard researchers are trying to emphasize the health benefits of continuing to keep mercury out of the environment.  And they’re worried a Trump administration rollback of regulations on mercury will reverse years of success in reducing emissions and by extension the amount in fish and other food that impacts humans.  Harvard Environmental Health Professor Doctor Phillipe Grandjean explains the biggest risk is pregnant women passing along mercury to their babies. 

“A common outcome is the IQ, and it may just be a matter of a few IQ points that the child will lose, but even the loss of a few IQ points may affect that child’s chances of getting a higher education and having a successful life economically.”

He notes other health impacts can be greater risk of ADHD and Heart Attack.     

The EPA is considering weakening the Mecury and Air Toxics Standards  (MATS) to reduce financial burden on business, mainly coal power plants.  The New York Times has reported this move might set the stage for a full repeal of the mercury emissions standards

Syracuse University Environmental Engineering Professor Doctor Charlie Driscoll calls mercury reduction, from MATS and other efforts, a true environmental success story.

“Production of emissions, largely from coal-fire power plants in the U.S., since 2006, has decreased about 85%. So we see decreases in mercury in air, in atmospheric deposition, in water, in oil.”

The EPA's plan to rollback mercury regulations could potentially reverse the country's decade-long trend of decreasing emission levels.
Credit United States Environmental Protection Agency

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Driscoll adds newer research has allowed them to identify sources of mercury found in New York’s waters and fish.  That’s allowed him to say the MATS rule has been directly responsible for reductions.

“It’s very, very clear. It’s like a fingerprint, if you will, of the various mercury sources. I think that’s why we can say with great certainty the impact of the MATS rule has been very effective, and that mercury from emissions has had a huge impact in terms of the overall mercury levels in fish.”

Syracuse University Professor Doctor Charlie Driscoll discusses the positive impacts MATS has had on health and the environment.

When mercury emissions contaminate bodies of water, if affects the residing fish. As larger fish eat smaller fish, the larger fish absorbs the mercury of the smaller, and the accumulation increases moving up the food chain.

Driscoll and the Harvard researchers worry rolling back limits on mercury will reverse progress and eventually harm human health.  They say the current health and economic costs of mercury damage on children and their future is estimated at five billion dollars a year.  That’s about a thousand times greater than the impact found in EPA estimates … the ones being used to justify a possible easing of current mercury emission restrictions.