Minnesotans Brave The Cold To Thank EPA for Mercury Pollution Protections

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Minnesotans gathered outside of the Environmental Protection Agency office in Duluth on Wednesday to thank the agency for issuing strong new mercury pollution safeguards. They presented a large thank you card signed by local Duluthians and a banner made by Girl Scout Troop 12965. In December, the EPA finalized strong public health safeguards to limit mercury and other toxic pollution from coal power plants.

“The Sierra Club, and parents like me across Minnesota, applaud the President and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for their courage and resolve in protecting Minnesota families – particularly women and children – from this dangerous toxin and for standing up to polluters’ attempts to weaken this life-saving protection,” said John Doberstein, local dad and Sierra Club member.

Mercury is a dangerous brain poison that poses a particular threat to prenatal babies and young children. Exposure in the bloodstreams of pregnant and nursing women can result in birth defects like learning disabilities, lowered IQ, deafness, blindness and cerebral palsy.

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“There are many coal plants across Minnesota that release dangerous levels of mercury,” said Kate Mensing, University of Minnesota-Duluth student. “We thank President Obama and the EPA for the peace of mind that now these plants will not polluting our water and air with this dangerous poison anymore.”

Minnesota Power operates three plants north of Duluth – Boswell, Taconite Harbor, and Sy Laskin – which, combined, release over 291 pounds of mercury into Minnesota waterways each year. Xcel Energy’s Sherco coal plant in Becker alone releases a whopping  411 pounds of mercury into Minnesota air each year, which rains down into our waterways. It only takes a teaspoon of mercury to contaminate a 20 acre lake.

Once in the air, mercury rains down and accumulates in the bodies of fish and shellfish. If people eat fish or seafood from polluted bodies of water, mercury accumulates in their bodies and can be passed from mother to child. Minnesota had 6,663 statewide and waterbody-specific fish advisories for mercury contamination as of March 2011. EPA’s new protections are expected to decrease that number dramatically.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury safeguards have support from people of diverse backgrounds including sportsmen and faith leaders. Darrel Spencer, Izaak Walton League, said, “Every hunter and angler knows that a successful outdoor experience depends on a healthy environment. Yet in Minnesota, nearly every lake tested for mercury contamination triggers health warnings by the Minnesota Department of Health to limit fish consumption. Fish consumption advisories for methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury, account for more than three-quarters of all fish-consumption advisories, says the U.S. Geological Survey. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, according to EPA. No one wants a mercury-laden fish for dinner.”

Pastor David Carlson of Gloria Dei Lutheran added, “It is in such a spirit of stewardship, justice, and voice for the voiceless, that your efforts toward the implementation of these federal Standards have been a top priority in the advocacy of my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, made up of 4.5 million members in the U.S. Here are words from an ELCA statement: “Without these protections our neighbors, particularly the most vulnerable children, the elderly, those living in poverty and unable to afford health care will continue to suffer the harmful impacts of toxic air pollution.  [We] urge the EPA to adopt the strongest standards possible for these pollutants and to continue its important work to defend our communities from environmental harm.”

“On behalf of the faith community, thank you for keeping your promise in adopting these standards, a significant step toward the vision the Spirit of God intended from the beginning, for our good and the good of all creation.”

According to the EPA, these new standards will prevent up to 150 premature deaths in Minnesota annually and create up to $1.2 billion in health benefits each year. Over 3,000 Sierra Club supporters in Minnesota submitted comments in support of a strong mercury rule.

 “Thank you, President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, for standing up for Minnesotans and all Americans who care about clean air and clean water for their families,” added Doberstein.

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