Mercury poison to be reduced thanks to Sen. Alexander
By Frances LambertsPerhaps because it can be deadly, the heavy metal which coal fired power plants send up into the air through their stack emissions is named after a Greek-Roman mythical deity: Mercury.
It was held to be Mercury’s job to accompany to the netherworld the souls of the newly deceased.
A potent neurotoxin capable of causing severe brain damage in developing fetuses and loss of balance and other problems in exposed adults, mercury has been responsible for numerous documented poisonings in the past.
In Signs of the Times in June, the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ newsletter reported on one such case.
A Canadian indigenous tribe must still deal with the poisoning effects after a paper company, 50 years ago, dumped almost 10 tons of mercury into the river traversing their territory.
The affected tribe received $16.6 million in compensation. To this day, one in four of its members born after the contamination suffers from tremors, walking difficulties, congenital abnormalities, thyroid problems and other health effects.
Very great care is indicated to keep this dangerous poison out of the environment.
Under President Bush in 2007, Congress took first steps to curtail the poison’s largest source — the energy used in lighting our homes and commercial buildings.
It initiated a phase-out of inefficient incandescent light bulbs, in use almost unchanged since the 19th century.
Under standards set by President Obama in 2009, the phased change-over from incandescent to energy-saving bulbs was confirmed and efficiency of fluorescent tube lights raised.
The 2009 standards will save 1.2 trillion kilowatt hours over 30 years and electric-bill savings for consumers will amount to $35 billion.
Although the measures by Bush and continued by Obama seek to reduce our global-warming impact, their side effect is a huge reduction in mercury pollution.
In electricity generation as currently practiced in the U.S., only one-fourth as much mercury is released through compact fluorescent bulbs over their lifetime than through the incandescents they replace, and the even newer LED bulbs use no mercury at all.
President Obama took a further step to protect Americans from environmental mercury exposure.
As reported in this column recently, the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated a Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which requires electric power plants built in the future, after 2015, to cut their mercury emissions by 90 percent.
Through a rider to the federal spending bill, in December, Congress forced a deferment of the mandated change-over to energy-efficient lighting.
This spring, the House of Representatives voted to overturn the Mercury Rule but the U.S. Senate, with Sen. Lamar Alexander’s support, upheld this rule.
Among reasons for his support, Alexander stated that “because of high levels of mercury, health advisories warn against eating fish caught in many of Tennessee’s rivers and streams, mercury causes brain damage in more than 315,000 children each year, nationally [and the rule] also controls 186 other hazardous pollutants [and captures] fine particles, a major source of respiratory diseases.”