WASHINGTON -- February 28 -- As the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) face pending deadlines on mercury reduction plans, a new study published today calculated that the U.S. loses $8.7 billion annually due to the impact of mercury on children's brain development. The peer-reviewed study by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine's Center for Children's Health and the Environment was published today, February 28, online by the National Institutes of Health journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2005/7743/7743.pdf ) .
"Before they take their first breath, as many as 600,000 babies may suffer permanent brain damage from their mothers' exposure to mercury pollution," said Susan Marmagas, MPH, director of Physicians for Social Responsibility's Environment and Health Program. "The damage has personal consequences for these children, but now we see that it also has enormous implications for the national economy."
In the study, "Public Health and Economic Consequences of Methylmercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain," pediatricians at Mt. Sinai found that $1.3 billion of the economic losses from mercury pollution is directly attributable to mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants. Mercury emitted from power plants is absorbed by fish and eaten by women is passed onto their children in utero. Scientists have documented that mercury exposure impairs brain development and reduces IQ.
The EPA has identified coal-fired power plants as the largest industrial emitters of mercury, producing more than one third of all mercury pollution in the U.S. Coal-fired power plants emit thousands of pounds of toxic mercury into our nation's air every year-about 91,000 pounds in 2001-but they never have been regulated. By March 15, 2005, the EPA is required to issue mercury limits for power plants, but these rules are expected to delay significant mercury reductions for at least 13 years. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday, March 2, on the Bush administration's similarly weak legislative proposal, its misnamed "Clear Skies" bill.
"This report shows that if Congress passes 'Clear Skies,' it will forever cloud our children's future," concluded Marmagas. "Children are highly susceptible to threats in the world around them, and parents and doctors can only do so much to protect them. Congress and the EPA have a duty to prevent the threat of mercury pollution, and it is deeply troubling that they are shirking this duty."
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences found strong evidence for the toxicity of methylmercury to children's developing brains, even at low levels of exposure. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Controls found that as many as 637,233 American children are born each year with mercury levels of more than 5.8 ug/L (5.8 micrograms per liter), the level associated with brain damage and loss of IQ.
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is a leading public policy organization with nearly 30,000 members representing the medical and public health professions and concerned citizens, working together for nuclear disarmament, a healthy environment, and an end to the epidemic of gun violence.