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New Air Standards Geared Toward Public Health

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. These national standards are intended to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. The standards have been put in place to cut emissions of dangerous pollutants by relying on pollution controls already in use at more than half the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

EPA has asserted that these safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards are also geared at preventing upwards of 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis in children annually.

"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health—and especially for the health of our children,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come."

“Since toxic air pollution from power plants can make people sick and cut lives short, [this is] a huge victory for public health,” said Albert A. Rizzo, MD, National Volunteer Chair of the American Lung Association, and pulmonary and critical care physician in Newark, DE.

More than 20 years ago, a bipartisan Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury. To meet this requirement, EPA worked extensively with stakeholders, including industry, to minimize cost and maximize flexibilities in these final standards. There were more than 900,000 public comments that helped inform the final standards being announced.

EPA estimates that manufacturing, engineering, and installing and maintaining the pollution controls to meet these standards will provide employment for thousands, including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants.

Mercury has been shown to harm the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb, impairing thinking, learning and early development, and other pollutants that will be reduced by these standards can cause cancer, premature death, heart disease, and asthma.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are being issued in response to a court deadline. They, along with the final Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, issued earlier this year, are considered to be the most significant steps to clean up pollution from power plant smokestacks since the Acid Rain Program of the 1990s.

Combined, the two rules are estimated to prevent up to 46,000 premature deaths, 540,000 asthma attacks among children, 24,500 emergency room visits and hospital admissions. The two programs are an investment in public health that will provide a total of up to $380 billion in return to American families in the form of longer, healthier lives and reduced health care costs.

More information: www.epa.gov/mats

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