Written by Doris Cadoux, Executive Director, Oceans Alert

On Earth day, 2002, George W. Bush announced the Clear Skies Initiative. It would allow the 1,100 US Coal Fired Power Plants to continue emitting mercury at dangerous levels, undercutting the 1970 Clean Air Act’s emission goals.  The initiative lessens mercury emission standards from the reduction of 90% by 2008 under the Clean Air Act to only 69% by 2018 under the Clear Skies Initiative. By doing this, the administration would be allowing a major Pollutant of Mass Destruction to be used on the American people for 10 extra years and beyond.

Mercury poisoning is not a new phenomenon.  In the early1800s, the mercury used in the making of felt hats caused the workers to have severe physical and mental problems. Their affliction became known as the Mad Hatters syndrome and became the inspiration for the beloved character in Alice in Wonderland known as the Mad Hatter.

In the 1950’s, people living near Minamata Bay in Japan ate fish that had been contaminated with high doses of methylmercury. This caused children in the Minimata community to have a range of neurological and physical disorders including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, limb deformities and seizures.

In the United States, Coal Fired Power Plants are a major source of mercury emissions. When the emissions disperse over water – our oceans, lakes and rivers, they are converted by bacteria into methylmercury, a particularly poisonous form of organic mercury.

Methylmercury accumulates in fish tissue and endangers people who eat them.

It persists in women’s bodies, a danger to their unborn fetuses and to children not yet conceived.

In addition, the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, though not approved by Congress will, through EPA regulations, allow heavily polluting Coal Fired Power Plants to buy credits from other plants, thereby creating Minimata-like hot spots in the Untied States. States already in danger of having hot spots are Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, N.Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. 

Across the country, more than 12 million acres of lakes and more than 450,000 miles of rivers are under state mercury advisories, warning people to avoid or limit the consumption of fish from these areas.

The presence of high levels of mercury contamination in ocean fish such as tuna, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish has been publicized. People are becoming more aware of the warnings to woman of childbearing age that eating such fish has harmful effects on the unborn child.

The Environmental Protection Agency, based on Center of Disease Control findings, estimates that as many as 630,000 children each year may be born with unhealthy levels of mercury in their blood. It would be even more frightening to know what that figure would be if mercury emissions from medical and waste incinerators had not already been curtailed in the early 1990s.

The mercury problem, though not created by this administration, is not even acknowledged by it. Mercury is not considered a toxin by this administration. It considers the mercury emissions as non-hazardous air pollution and determines that they do not need to be regulated under section 112 of the CAA.

The EPA wants to rescind the provisions of the Clean Air Act which provide that air toxins such as mercury from Coal Fired Power Plants be controlled to emission levels achievable by MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technologies). MACT would reduce mercury emissions from CFPP by more than 90% by 2008 using existing technology.

In its place, with the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, the EPA would reduce mercury emissions from CFPP by only 69% by 2018.

From 2008 to 2018, in the name of "regulatory relief", and with total lack of compassion, the EPA’s proposal will subject up to 4,500,000 children in the United States to unhealthy levels of mercury in their blood and the threat of severe neurological and developmental problems. This is in the devastation category of a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Everything possible must be done to reduce mercury emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants, Chlorine Plants that utilize Mercury, all other sources of Mercury contamination, including that from other countries by legislation, regulation, legal action, incentives, negotiation or treaty.

This Pollutant of Mass Destruction is not just an environmental issue. The health of the nation’s families is seriously at stake.


Some of the sources used are:   EPA; FDA; CDC; Michael Shore, Environmental Defense;  Scott Edwards, Sr. Atty, Waterkeeper Alliance;   Robert Day, Expansion Capital; Dr.Alex Cadoux, expert in heavy metal toxicity in humans.