Five health groups, including APHA, took legal action Friday to support measures that protect the public from mercury and toxic air pollution. The groups filed a motion in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which set limits on the emissions of hazardous air pollutants from 600 coal- and oil-fired power plants in more than 40 states.
“The dangerous health risks associated with coal-burning power plants are no longer elusive, distant threats,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association, in a statement. “Blocking these standards could mean the difference between a chronic debilitating, expensive illness or healthy life for hundreds of thousands of American children and adults.”
Power plants are by far the biggest emitters of many toxic air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic and acid gases, and emit more than 80 of the 187 hazardous pollutants identified for control by the Clean Air Act. Many of these pollutants, such as dioxins, arsenic and lead, can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some harm the kidneys, lungs and nervous system. Others can kill.
According to EPA, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths. 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits each year. In addition, cleaning up these emissions will provide $3 to $9 in health care and economic benefits for every $1 spent on clean-up.
While the health benefits are widely distributed, EPA says the benefits are particularly significant for low-income and minority populations who are “disproportionately impacted by asthma and other debilitating health conditions.”
“Attempts to delay or dismantle the Clean Air Act, or rules like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, reward industry polluters and punish those most vulnerable to dirty air,” said Albert Rizzo, MD, chairman of the board for the American Lung Association, in a news release. “These new standards mark a huge step forward in clean air protections and will be responsible for saving thousands of lives each year.”
According to the groups, industry has long opposed implementing tighter standards and filed challenges to the EPA on the standards before the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. Refuting those challenges is why the medical and public health groups filed papers last week to intervene.
In addition to APHA, the groups filing suit included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility. They are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.