Today, at a park overlooking the Presumpscot River in Falmouth, a group of Maine educators, public health advocates, sports-fishermen, business owners and environmental advocates kicked off their coalition effort to clean up mercury pollution from power plants and to demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopt strict standards to deal with the problem.
“Today, we are here because of the mercury pollution that poisons our air and water and threatens Maine’s wildlife and our children’s health,” says Matt Prindiville, Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Mainers Against Mercury Pollution is a coalition of Maine citizens, businesses and organizations that refuse to allow our state to continue to be a dumping ground for mercury pollution from power plants. We share the view that mercury emissions from power plants can and must be cleaned up using the best-available pollution-control technologies.”
Mercury is highly toxic and is linked to serious health problems, including brain damage and developmental impairment in children and reproductive failure for wildlife, especially fish-eating species like osprey, loons and otters. A new analysis released in February by the EPA shows that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to pose risk to an unborn child.
“Fetal and infant exposure to mercury can impair learning, memory and attention and put a child at risk of life long learning problems,” says Sandy Cort, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “We need strong controls on mercury pollution now to protect the neurological health of Maine’s children.”
In December of 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to reclassify mercury under the Clean Air Act to fit within a weak regulatory scheme. This proposal would weaken the Clean Air Act, allowing seven times more mercury pollution that the enforcement of existing law.
“It’s a shame that the Bush administration hasn’t relied on the best science to establish their mercury rule,” says Matthew Davis, Advocate for Environment Maine. “We need to reduce mercury emissions from power plants as much as possible, 90% by 2008.”
Power plants are the largest uncontrolled source of mercury pollution. Coal and oil-fired power plants emit mercury-laden smoke into the air. The mercury pollution follows prevailing winds to Maine and rains down on Maine’s lakes and rivers where it accumulates in fish, making them unsafe to eat. All of Maine’s waters are under a statewide fish consumption advisory due to widespread mercury contamination.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than heading out on the water to go fishing,” says Kyle Noonan, a sports-fisherman from Old Town. “It’s too bad the fish are so contaminated with mercury, I can’t share them with my family.”
Mary Paine, chef and owner of the Pepper Club restaurant shares Kyle’s concerns. “As a chef, I care about providing my patrons with healthy food. Mercury pollution from power plants threatens our health and the health of the next generation. We need to take action if future generations are to enjoy fish risk-free.”
The news conference coincides with the end of the comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury proposal. Over 500,000 citizens have submitted comments calling on the EPA to change their current proposal and to strictly control mercury emissions from power plants. The groups want Mainers to know that the end of the day tomorrow (June 29) is the deadline to comment on proposed federal regulations for control of mercury emissions from power plants.
“Tomorrow, the Environmental Protection Agency will end the comment period for their weak proposal to regulate mercury emissions,” says Joan Saxe of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club. “But here in Maine, we are just beginning ours. There is strong, support for strict controls on mercury pollution from our entire Congressional delegation. It’s time for the Bush Administration to do the same and put people ahead of polluters.”
Echoing these sentiments, Chris Coleman, an educator from Bath says, “When I have to explain the threats to Maine’s wildlife from mercury pollution, the children have a hard time accepting it. They can’t believe that the government would continue to allow something so toxic to keep polluting the environment.”
Mainers Against Mercury Pollution:
Appalachian Mountain Club
Maine People’s Alliance
Maine Public Health Association
Environmental Health Strategy Center
National Environmental Trust – Maine Chapter
Izaak Walton League – Maine Chapter
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Learning Disabilities Association of Maine
Pepper Club Restaurant
Maine Cardiovascular Health Council
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Maine Rivers Sierra Club – Maine Chapter
Maine Council of Churches
Toxics Action Center
Maine Developmental Disabilities Council
The Naked Truth Project
Maine Labor Group on Health