From: ENN
Published August 4, 2005 12:00 AM

DEP Urged to Protect Pennsylvania's Environment from Toxic Mercury

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), joined by representatives from health care, sporting, women's rights, faith-based, children's advocacy and conservation organizations, today called for Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to put the health of citizens above politics and continue working on new regulations to reduce toxic mercury from the state's coal-fired power plants. The groups released a joint letter to DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty urging her to disregard a letter sent on July 27, 2005 by Sen. Mary Jo White; Rep. William Adolph, Jr. and Sen. Raphael Musto, which called for DEP to do nothing to stop poisonous mercury in the Commonwealth.

You can view the joint letter from the groups here; the letter from the state senators can be seen here. Both require Adobe Acrobat or Reader.

"It would be unconscionable for DEP to stop working on regulations to control mercury pollution, given the public health problems that this toxic substance causes, and it is astonishing that any politician would ask DEP to do so," said Jan Jarrett, Vice President of PennFuture, which launched the campaign to regulate mercury from Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants. "DEP should stay the course and adopt strong and effective regulations to protect the health of our families."

A significant percentage of mercury deposition occurs within close range of the source of pollution; and Pennsylvania is home to some of the nation's highest mercury emitters. Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants produce 83 percent of the mercury released into our air, so controlling this source will result in health benefits to the residents of the Commonwealth.

"We are facing a major public health problem, with one in six women having enough mercury in their bodies to place their fetus or nursing infant at risk for brain damage," said Michele P. Campbell, MSN, RNC, Executive Administrator of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. "And the long-term results of mercury damage to children are not just causing medical problems, but are straining our schools, our social service agencies, our health care facilities and the families of the affected children themselves. How could anyone in elected office ask us to do nothing to prevent brain damage to our children?"

"Mercury is also destroying Pennsylvania's streams, fish and wildlife and our vital sports tourism sector," said Melody Zullinger, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs (PFSC). "With fish advisories for mercury across the entire state warning Pennsylvanians to eat no more than one meal (one-half pound) per week of sport fish caught in the state's waterways, the fishing industry is at risk of losing tourism dollars. Yet, we can turn this around. Recent studies in Florida, Wisconsin and New Hampshire found a significant drop in mercury levels in fish and birds - within a few years - when local incinerators were required to cut emissions by 90 percent."

The Rev. Sandra L. Strauss, Director of Public Advocacy for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, also called for DEP to stay the course, saying, "Our faith teaches us to live our commitment to justice. Refusing to regulate mercury, and continuing to risk brain damage in our young children, is an injustice of the highest degree."

"PennEnvironment has collected over 10,000 citizen comments urging the Rendell administration to require 90 percent mercury reductions from all coal- fired power plants in the state," said Nathan Willcox, energy and clean air advocate with PennEnvironment. "Pennsylvanians clearly recognize the public health threat posed by mercury pollution, and they want the state taking the strongest action possible to reduce this threat."

"Sierra Club has more than 28,000 members in Pennsylvania, and many of them live downwind from the dirty coal-fired power plants that produce this toxic mercury pollution," said Jeff Schmidt, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. "Our members have been canvassing neighborhoods about this serious health threat and have found thousands of citizens willing to sign post cards urging DEP to move forward with a strong regulation to reduce mercury pollution from these outdated power plants. The Rendell Administration should choose public health over bigger profits for the power industry," he added.

In August 2004, PennFuture petitioned the Environmental Quality Board asking that DEP adopt regulations requiring a 90 percent reduction in mercury released into the air by power plants in Pennsylvania, a rule similar to one in use in New Jersey. PennFuture took this action on behalf of its members and health care professionals, other environmental organizations and children's advocates, faith-based, sporting and women's rights groups. In May 2005, DEP agreed to create rules for mercury regulations and also joined with other states to sue the Federal government for its failure to regulate mercury. On July 27, 2005, Sen. Mary Jo White; Rep. William Adolph, Jr.; and Sen. Raphael Musto sent a letter to DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty, urging that DEP take no action to protect the health of Pennsylvanians from toxic mercury.

Today's press conference participants represent the more than 60 public health, children's advocacy, sporting, labor, faith-based and environmental organizations (see for complete list) that support the proposal by PennFuture to DEP. They also jointly signed a letter delivered to DEP asking the Department to stay the course and prepare the regulations.

Under the rules of the Environmental Quality Board, DEP has until November to write the new regulations.

Source: PRNewswire, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future

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