The myth of killer mercury, EPA: Environmental Propaganda Activists

Share Button

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued 946 pages of new rules, requiring that U.S. power plants sharply reduce (already low) emissions of mercury and 83 other air pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that, while the regulations will cost electricity producers $10.9 billion annually, they will save 17,000 lives and generate up to $140 billion in health benefits.

There is no factual basis for these assertions. To build its case, EPA systematically ignored evidence and ignored clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use.

Mercury (Hg) has always existed naturally in Earth’s environment. A 2009 study found numerous spikes (and drops) in mercury deposition in Antarctic ice over the past 650,000-years. Mercury is found in air, water, rocks, soil and in trees, which absorb it from the environment. This is why our bodies evolved with proteins and antioxidants that help protect us from this and other potential contaminants.

A further defense comes from selenium, which is found in fish and animals. Its strong attraction to mercury molecules protects fish and people against buildups of methylmercury, mercury’s biologically active and more toxic form. Thus, the 200,000,000 tons of mercury naturally present in seawater have never posed a danger to any living being, even though they could theoretically be converted into methylmercury.

Modern technologies enable us to detect infinitesimal amounts in air and water. However, quantities of mercury measured in lake waters are often no more than 0.00000001 gram of mercury per liter. Lab technicians typically wear special garments when measuring mercury levels, not to protect themselves – but to ensure accurate measurements, because even breathing on a sample can triple a reading!

How do America’s coal-burning power plants enter into the picture?

The latest government, university and independent studies reveal that those power plants emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury per year. However, US forest fires emit at least 44 tons per year; cremation of human remains discharges 26 tpy; Chinese power plants eject 400 tpy; and volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out 9,000-10,000 additional tons per year!

All these emissions enter the global atmospheric system and become part of the US air mass.

Thus, US power plants account for less than 0.5 percent of all the mercury in the air Americans breathe. Even eliminating every milligram of this mercury will do nothing about the other 99.5 percent in America’s atmosphere.

And yet, in the face of these minuscule risks, EPA nevertheless demands that utility companies spend billions every year retrofitting coal-fired power plants that produce half of all US electricity, and 70 to 98 percent of electricity in twelve states. Its regulators simultaneously ignore the positive results of medical studies that clearly show its new restrictions are not needed and will not improve people’s health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which actively monitors mercury exposure, blood mercury counts for US women and children decreased steadily 1999-2008, placing today’s counts well below the already excessively “safe” level established by EPA.

A 17-year evaluation of mercury risk to babies and children, by the Seychelles Children Development Study, found “no measurable cognitive or behavioral effects” in children who eat several servings of ocean fish every week, much more than most Americans do.

The World Health Organization and US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed these findings in setting mercury risk standards that are two to three less restrictive than EPA’s. Under WHO and ATSDR guidelines, no American children are even remotely at risk from mercury.

EPA ignored these findings. Instead, the agency based its “safe” mercury criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders, whose diet is far removed from our own. They eat few fruits and vegetables, but do feast on pilot whale meat and blubber that is laced with mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – but very low in selenium. The study has limited relevance to US populations.

Finally, EPA maintains that mercury deposition, its conversion to methylmercury, and MeHg accumulation in fish and humans is a simple process that can be controlled by curtailing emissions from US power plants. However, mercury emissions (from all sources) and raw mercury levels in fresh or ocean waters are only part of the story.

Complex, nonlinear interactions among at least 50 natural variables control the biological and chemical processes that govern elemental mercury conversion to methylmercury and MeHg accumulation in fish. Those variables, and selenium levels in fish tissue, are beyond anyone’s ability to control.

As a result, the EPA’s actions can be counted on to achieve only one thing – which is to further advance the Obama administration’s oft-stated goal of penalizing hydrocarbon use, making coal-based electricity prices “skyrocket,” and driving a transition to unreliable renewable energy.

The proposed standards will do nothing to reduce exaggerated threats from mercury and other air pollutants. Indeed, the rules will worsen, rather than improve America’s health – especially for young children and women of child-bearing age. Not only will they raise heating, air conditioning and food costs; they will scare people away from nutritious fish that should be in everyone’s diet.

America needs affordable, reliable electricity. It needs better health and nutrition. It needs an EPA that focuses on real risks, instead of wasting hard-earned taxpayer and consumer dollars fabricating dangers and evidence.

“The myth of killer mercury” was originally published in the Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2011. See:
Share Button
This entry was posted in Regulation. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The myth of killer mercury, EPA: Environmental Propaganda Activists

  1. Glenn McLain says:

    You don’t expect the EPA to be honest in anything they do. They are so biased to begin with that anything they say is questionable. They use partial information and in some cases information that is wrong. The EPA needs to be reigned in.

  2. LarryG says:

    Would you also like to accuse the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality as conspiring with the EPA on this issue.

    Take a little read:

    then how about this:

    ” Some of the sources of mercury pollution include metal smelting, chlorine chemical plants, cement plants, and coal-fired power plants. Power plants are the largest source, emitting around 50 tons of mercury pollution annually. Cement plants are the fourth largest emitter of airborne mercury in the United States,”

    or perhaps you want to say that all 50 states are also part of the EPA “conspiracy”:

    ” In 2008, all 50 states issued fish consumption advisories, warning citizens to limit how often they eat certain types of fish caught in the state’s waters because they are contaminated with mercury.”

    you guys are disengenous on the basics and lame in general in your “blame the EPA” foolishness.

    you demean the cause of Conservatism of which has legitimacy when engaged in truthful analyses.

  3. Michael says:

    The plain truth in plain English. The deliberate destruction of the US economy lies dead ahead with the continuation of these pseudoscientific government regulations from Team Obama’s Merry Pranksters. The EPA’s latest proposed order forbidding farmers from putting dust in the air while harvesting their crops will likely result in a reduction of our food supply. Team Obama would have us become a nation that purposely turns itself into a third world nation for the sake of a literal myth–global warming. Do we have starvation in our future? Can we expect a return to the days before residential air conditioning, when tens of thousands of Americans died of heat stroke every summer? Where’s the logic in any of this environmental hysteria? That’s really the question, and it seems that neither our political, scientific or economic communities are willing to face up to the sad and ominous answer.

  4. LarryG says:

    what a bunch of anti-Obama blather. All 50 states posted fish advisories for Mercury long before Obama was President or the EPA took action on Mercury.

    The problem with you guys is you refuse to recognize the truth and want to reconstruct a world different from the realities.

    Ya’ll have gone off the rail with your conspiracy theories and fear mongering.

    there is no “environmental hysteria”. It is in your mind. The issue with mercury – in particular methyl-mercury – which is different from naturally-occurring mercury is no different that kepone, PCBs, Dioxin, and dozens of other deadly chemicals that the EPA and state agencies dealt with – decades ago – before Obama was even born yet you guys ignore the realities and go right on with your idiocy.

  5. LarryG says:

    Here’s another from the USGS:

    “Risk to People

    People are exposed to methylmercury almost entirely by eating contaminated fish and wildlife that are at the top of aquatic foodchains. The National Research Council, in its 2000 report on the toxicological effects of methylmercury, pointed out that the population at highest risk is the offspring of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood. The report went on to estimate that more than 60,000 children are born each year at risk for adverse neurodevelopmental effects due to in utero exposure to methylmercury. In its 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that mercury also may pose a risk to some adults and wildlife populations that consume large amounts of fish that is contaminated by mercury.”

    Notice – the National Research Council did that study in 2000 – nearly a decade before Obama.

    I could easily find 50 more of these from more than a dozen different non-EPA authoritative organizations so why is the focus on the current EPA and Obama?

    more agencies beyond the EPA:

    ” Many governmental agencies, notably the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the European Union Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have issued guidance for fish consumers that is designed to limit methylmercury exposure from fish consumption. At present, most of this guidance is based on protection of the developing fetus; future guidance, however, may also address cardiovascular risk. In general, fish consumption advice attempts to convey the message that fish is a good source of nutrition and has significant health benefits, but that consumers, particularly pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, nursing mothers and young children, should avoid fish with high levels of methylmercury, limit their intake of fish with moderate levels of methylmercury, and consume fish with low levels of methylmercury no more than twice a week.”

    and I know what is coming next… yes sir – a world wide conspiracy.. probably in cahoots with the Climate science conspiracy….

    Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he could see how his name is now being used.

Comments are closed.