Americans have one day left to tell the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to preserve life-saving pollution standards.
Last year, the Trump administration proposed a plan to move forward with dismantling safeguards on dangerous mercury and toxic pollution from power plants. Doing so would boost levels of mercury, soot and other hazardous pollution into our nation’s air, water, food and communities. These standards — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) — were developed in consultation with medical and public health experts in order to keep Americans healthy and safe.
As a doctor in Pennsylvania, I have seen just how important these standards are. Children are especially vulnerable to mercury’s harmful effects on the brain before birth and during early childhood. Coal-related mercury pollution has so contaminated Pennsylvania’s landscape that the state’s Fish and Boat Commission has advised pregnant women to limit local fish consumption to one meal per week.
The technology that reduces mercury and hazardous air pollution also cuts pollution from other microscopic soot particles (particulate matter) and lung-tissue-burning ozone. Known as a “co-benefit” to the MATS, this is where these standards save the most lives. Our medical literature is replete with studies showing that cutting these pollutants prevents death, disability, and hospital visits that result from lung disease, asthma, heart attack, stroke and even diabetes.
These standards are working as intended, keeping families healthy and safe. Before these standards were put in place, mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants was completely unlimited, and accounted for 48 percent of all human-caused mercury pollution, according to a report by Columbia University.
Overall, the EPA’s own scientists calculated that nationwide, the MATS is preventing up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits each year. Between 2011 and 2017, mercury pollution declined by more than 81 percent nationwide thanks to the very standards that the Trump administration is now threatening. For Pennsylvania, the amount of mercury pollution has decreased by a remarkable 90 percent, amounting to $4.4 billion in health benefits to Pennsylvanians each year.
Even the power industry wants to keep our mercury standards in place. These companies have already invested $18 billion in meeting the standards nationwide, and rolling back mercury pollution protections would jeopardize their ability to profit from that investment in the long term.
What can we do to prevent this dangerous rollback and make our voices heard? As a family physician and educator, my prescription is take five minutes to submit a public comment to the EPA on this misguided rule change by April 17.
The reality is that dismantling mercury protections jeopardizes public health. I oppose these rollbacks in the strongest possible terms and urge the Trump administration to reconsider this misguided proposal for the sake of our children and our future.