Washington, D.C. – Mercury is a potent neurotoxin of significant ecological and public health concern, especially for children and pregnant women. An estimated 200,000 children born in the United States each year are exposed to levels of mercury in the womb that are high enough to impair neurological development.
Scientists, however, must rely on limited information to understand the critical linkages between mercury emissions and environmental response and human health. In order to successfully design, implement, and assess solutions to the problem of mercury pollution, scientists need comprehensive long-term data.
To address this discrepancy and acquire this critical data, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-DE) reintroduced the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act, a bipartisan bill that would establish a national mercury monitoring network to protect human health, safeguard fisheries, and track the environmental effects of emissions reductions. The Senators previously introduced this bill in August 2018.
“Mercury is one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants that threatens our health and environment today. This powerful toxin affects the senses, brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and liver. It poses significant risks to children and pregnant women, causing an elevated risk of birth defects and problems with motor skills,” said Senator Collins. “This legislation would establish a comprehensive, robust national monitoring network for mercury to provide the data needed to help make decisions to protect the people and environment of Maine and the United States.”
“Exposure to mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, can inflict long-lasting and even fatal damage, especially in babies and young children,” said Senator Carper, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Despite the significant reduction in cases of children exposed to mercury pollution in recent years—progress due in part to efforts to reduce mercury and air toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants—more than 200,000 babies are still exposed to unsafe levels of mercury annually. Our bipartisan bill would establish a nationwide mercury monitoring system to better protect communities and to collect data on the impacts of this dangerous toxin. As the Trump Administration tries to move forward with dismantling commonsense mercury emission reduction standards, efforts like this one should send a clear message that reducing mercury pollution is a popular, bipartisan goal.”
“We appreciate Senators Collins’ and Carper’s bipartisan leadership to further protect babies, children, pregnant women and all communities from the harms of mercury pollution,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “The success of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in reducing mercury levels shows how important monitoring for this pollutant is. EPA’s recent proposal to undermine those standards must not be finalized. Together with the continued enforcement of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, this legislation can help further protect the health of all Americans from mercury.”
“As many as 200,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with mercury levels high enough to impair their neurological development. That is unacceptable. We urgently need to better understand mercury’s ubiquitous presence in our environment. Creating a comprehensive mercury monitoring program will help us take further action to limit its dangerous presence in our environment,” said John Walke, Director of Clean Air, Climate, & Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The U.N.’s global mercury treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, aims to protect human and environmental health from emissions and releases of mercury that stem from human activities such as burning coal or small-scale artisanal gold mining. Long-term mercury monitoring—locally, regionally, and globally—is critical to measuring the treaty’s effectiveness over time,” said David C. Evers, Ph.D., executive director of Maine-based Biodiversity Research Institute and leading mercury scientist. “The legislation introduced by Senators Collins and Carper allows the U.S. to take a leadership role in generating a comprehensive long-term mercury-monitoring program that will also benefit the entire global community.”
Mercury emissions from power plants are regulated under the Clean Air Act, through the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal that determined it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired plants. The Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act would enable scientists and public officials to accurately track and evaluate mercury emissions and better understand the impacts of policy changes.
The Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act has been endorsed by the American Lung Association, the Biodiversity Research Institute, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Specifically, the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act would:
· Direct the Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and other appropriate federal agencies, to establish a national mercury monitoring program to measure and monitor mercury levels in the air and watersheds; water and soil chemistry; and marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms across the nation;
· Establish a scientific advisory committee to advise on the establishment, site selection, measurement, recording protocols, and operations of the monitoring program;
· Establish a centralized database for existing and newly collected environmental mercury data that can be freely accessed on the Internet and is comprised of data that is compatible with similar international efforts;
· Require a report to Congress every two years on the program, including trends, and an assessment of the reduction in mercury deposition rates that need to be achieved in order to prevent adverse human and ecological effects every four-years; and
· Authorize $95 million over three years to carry out this legislation.