Weaker Mercury Regulations Threaten Children’s Health

This January, the US Environmental Protection Agency, under direction from President Bush, published new regulations that will allow more mercury to be emitted to the environment than the agency had previously planned. The rule change will replace the Clean Air Act’s target of a 90 percent reduction in power plant mercury emissions by 2008 with a 70 percent decrease by 2018. This means utilities will be allowed to release more mercury and have an extra ten years to do it. The EPA is also proposing to downgrade mercury’s toxicity by delisting it as a hazardous air pollutant. The changes are now open for public comment.

Ironically, the US Food and Drug Administration, upon urging from its Food Advisory Committee, unveiled stricter recommendations for women and children on fish consumption due to mercury contamination. Specifically, the FDA and EPA now warn women not to eat more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna or tuna steaks per week. Only 12 ounces of canned chunk light tuna should be consumed per week, or about 2 cans. Mercury emitted from power plants is eventually deposited in water bodies, where it accumulates in fish tissue.

PSR-LA in concerned that the advisory on albacore does not go far enough, as independant testing shows some levels of mercury in some albacore are high enough to warrant a “do not eat” listing, based on FDA standards.

The Bush Administration seems to be ignoring the recommendations and science

of its own federal agencies to appease energy producers.

PSR-LA is working to stop the weakening of regulations that protect people from mercury exposure. Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that can cause nervous system damage in the unborn. The metal has contaminated our food supply and rendered some species of fish unsafe for consumption by women of childbearing age. Untainted, seafood is a healthy food high in protein and vital omega-3 fatty acids. But mercury contamination has become so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 12 women of childbearing age risk giving birth to a child with permanent, neurological damage due to exposure in the womb. That puts more than 300,000 children at risk each year. These frightening estimates were recently doubled by EPA scientists, who now believe the risk may actually be one in six women, or 630,000 children. The new calculations are based on science that demonstrates mercury’s ability to concentrate in fetal blood at levels 70 percent higher than maternal blood.

For the past several years, PSR-LA member physicians have volunteered at community clinics throughout the state to educate fellow health professionals on how to talk to their patients about avoiding dietary mercury exposure. The administration’s attempt to weaken regulations that protect pregnant women and children from mercury certainly makes our job more difficult, and even more vital to protecting the health of future generations.

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