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May 242011

From Green Right Now Reports

Scores of citizens opposed to mercury-laced air pollution from coal plants attended an EPA hearing on the topic in Philadelphia today.

Hundreds marched to an EPA hearing in Philadelphia on air pollution from coal plants.

Mothers with toddlers in tow, religious leaders, medical professionals and others converged on The Westin hotel downtown for the first of the EPA’s three public hearings on a rule that would limit air pollution from coal-burning plants.

The proposed new standards would set restrictions on emissions containing toxic mercury, arsenic and other air pollutants.

Coal-fired power plants emit tons of mercury along with carbon pollution across the U.S. In Pennsylvania, they are estimated to put out 15,500 tons of mercury annually.

Mercury is known for its potential to harm developing fetuses, and causing neurological and developmental problems in children, when even small amounts are inhaled or ingested.

Humans can absorb mercury from air emissions, and also from food, such as fish, that accumulate mercury after it falls to earth and ends up in waterways.

“Young children are uniquely vulnerable to the toxic effects of environmental poisons such as mercury and arsenic,” said Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, Medical Director of The Poison Control Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “These compounds are especially dangerous to the developing brain and nervous system. To protect our children it is a basic sensibility to try our best to provide them with clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean, nutritious food to eat.”

The EPA estimates that cleaning up coal pollution by requiring plants to install new technology to cleanse emissions would:

  • Prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year.
  • Prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma episodes and reduce by about 11,000 the cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.
  • Avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and recapture 850,0oo days of work missed due to illnesses related to this type of air pollution.

The hearing in Philadelphia is the first of three national public hearings that the EPA is holding before making a decision on the rule to restrict emissions. Chicago also hosted a hearing, and one is scheduled for Atlanta this week.

Those who want to comment online or attend the Atlanta hearing can get more information at the EPA’s website on this proposed rule. The public has through July 5, 2011 to comment.

The coal industry has fought this regulation, saying it is too expensive to modify its plants and scrub emissions.

A marcher's sign asks how many deaths from coal air pollution are "reasonable."

The Philadelphia Sierra Club and the Clean Air Council helped organize the march to the hearing on Tuesday, in an effort to help show how regular people are affected by unregulated coal-burning pollution.

“Pennsylvania is an ideal setting for this discussion on toxic coal pollution,” said Joseph O. Minott, Esq., Executive Director of the Clean Air Council.

“In 2009, EPA placed Pennsylvania second nationally for emissions of mercury from power plants, and the pollution from which contributes to an estimated 1,359 premature deaths every year in Pennsylvania.”