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Mercury Health Threat Called 'Politically Motivated Junk Science'

  • Marc Morano Senior Staff Writer
  • 2003 26 Feb
Mercury Health Threat Called 'Politically Motivated Junk Science'
Washington ( - A coalition of environmental and public health groups Tuesday demanded that the Bush administration tighten regulations on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The demand follows a draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency warning that mercury emissions from industry are becoming a danger to children's health. However, the author of a book debunking many environmental and public health worries called the mercury health threat "alarmism" and "politically motivated junk science."

Steven Milloy, editor of a website devoted to battling "junk science" and author of several books including Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams, said there is no scientific evidence to back up any health threat claims concerning mercury levels in the U.S.

"No one should be concerned about mercury. Typical exposures are not a problem. There is absolutely no data that shows mercury is a public health threat," Milloy told

"This is just alarmism," he said.

'Health of Our Children'

But environmental activists, led by former Clinton administration EPA Administrator Carol Browner, held a press conference in Washington Tuesday demanding that the Bush administration strengthen mercury emission regulations on the coal-fired industry.

"Mercury is a serious problem, particularly with respect to the health of our children," Browner said at the press conference sponsored by the public health group Clean Air Trust.

The draft report from the current EPA, called "America's Children and the Environment," indicates there is growing evidence that mercury levels are reaching unsafe levels in the blood of women of childbearing age.

Also on Tuesday, a group of Democratic senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, attacked the Bush administration's handling of the mercury emissions issue.

Browner said the Clean Air Act of 1990 could be used to increase regulations on industry to reduce mercury emissions and chastised the Bush administration for giving in to industry demands through its Clear Skies Initiative.

The Clear Skies Initiative, announced last year by President Bush, aims to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions.

"What Clear Skies does is it means there is more mercury in the air for longer. It should not be about special deals for special interests," Browner explained.

"The science is showing us that our children are affected by our environment. Setting standards to protect the most at risk, our children, makes a lot of sense," she added.

Milloy believes "eco-activist staffers" at the current EPA, which is administered by Republican Christine Whitman, are trying "to force back-breaking regulations on coal-fired electric power plants."

Mercury is naturally occurring in the environment, Milloy said. He challenged the EPA and the activists to show any proof of the danger.

"Show me the person in the U.S. who has gotten sick from eating fish because of mercury. Where are the bodies? Where are the illnesses?" Milloy asked.

Milloy wondered why if Browner was so sure mercury was a public health threat, she didn't do more with the issue as EPA administrator during the 1990s.

"The Clinton administration was in power for eight years. They didn't do anything [about Mercury emissions], there wasn't even a proposal," Milloy said.

Milloy also believes Bush's Clear Skies Initiative is adequate to deal with mercury emissions in the U.S.

"The Bush initiative is plenty. I don't even think that is necessary. The plan reduces mercury emissions by 50 percent by 2010, 70 percent by 2018. That is more than ample, that is more than is required," Milloy explained.

Whitman's EPA issued a statement Tuesday, declaring that "the EPA remains concerned about children potentially exposed to mercury in the womb."

To reduce mercury emissions, the EPA said it was focusing on "reducing air emissions, limiting discharges to water, removing mercury from batteries and paint, and developing mercury emission control technologies."

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), said targeting power plant emissions was not going to have a significant impact on mercury levels in the environment. The ERCC is a coalition of electric utilities and public power companies.

"Mercury is a widely occurring natural element, coming from sources as diverse as volcanoes and minerals," Segal said.

"Power plant emissions represent only a tiny fraction of manmade mercury emissions, and the amount has declined over the last several decades," he added.

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