LOWEY CALLS FOR HEARING ON NY'S MERCURY POLLUTION AS EPA PROPOSES RULES THAT ARE TOO LAX
EPA Study Shows Dangerously High Levels of Mercury Put Newborns at Risk
February 10, 2004
Administrator Michael O. Leavitt
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Leavitt,
We are writing to urge you to hold at least one public hearing in New York State on the recently-issued mercury rules for electric power plants, and to extend the public comment period on the rules by 30 days. Our constituents are entitled to have their voices heard on these regulations, which could seriously impact regional air quality and public health.
The rules published by the EPA on January 30, 2003, which would reclassify mercury as a Criteria rather than Hazardous Air Pollutant, would significantly lengthen the timetable for achieving emissions reductions. Levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, would be almost seven times as high as those mandated in the Clean Air Act. It is imperative that the formal mercury rule, which is expected to be published shortly in the Federal Register, provide 90 days for public comment and require at least one public hearing in New York.
The public health impacts of these regulations would be severe. The New York State Department of Health has already issued 40 fish consumption advisories warning children and pregnant women to limit consumption of local fish because of mercury contamination. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in January 2003 found that 1 in 12 women of childbearing age has mercury levels above EPA's recommended threshold. Nationally, this translates into nearly 4.9 million women of childbearing age with elevated levels of mercury from eating contaminated fish and approximately 322,000 newborns at risk of neurological impairment from exposure in utero.
Higher mercury emissions would also have adverse economic consequences. Lakes and rivers laden with this toxic chemical are unsuitable for fishing. Studies indicate that mercury contamination has a direct impact on where people choose to fish, how often they go, and for how long they choose to fish. A key growth engine, recreational fishing generated $1 billion in economic activity in New York in 2001. As mercury pollution increases, significant regional and national economic impacts are likely.
Adoption of tougher pollution standards could help reverse ecological damage from years of unregulated mercury emissions. Recent research, including a study completed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, suggests the ability of ecosystems to recover from elevated mercury levels by reducing mercury from air pollution.
Protection of public health and New York's lakes and streams require the strongest possible pollution controls. Thank you in advance for your consideration of our request for an extension of the public comment period, as well as a public hearing in New York. We look forward to your response.