The Big Mercury Lie

by William Yeatman on January 4, 2012

in Blog

Post image for The Big Mercury Lie

There’s a big lie making the rounds that EPA’s ultra-expensive new mercury regulation is worth the cost ($10 billion annually) because it will protect fetuses from developmental disorders.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is the most prominent perpetrator of the mercury lie. Recently, she gave a pep talk to a group of collegian environmental activists trying to shut down campus coal fired power plants, during which she said:

“It’s so important that your voices be heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power.  It’s simply not fair.”

Over at Think Progress Green, Brad Johnson does his part to spread mercury disinformation, by pooh-poohing Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) for having claimed (correctly) that the mercury rule won’t have any benefit for babies and pregnant women. According to Johnson,

“The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.”

Naturally, environmentalist special interests are the worst propagators of this mercury mendacity. The day that EPA Administrator announced the final mercury rule, Sierra Club launched a television advertisement depicting a little girl learning to ride a bike, while a voiceover states:

“When this little girl grows up her world will have significantly less mercury pollution because President Obama and the EPA stood up against polluters and established the first-ever clean air standards. This action means that our air, water, and food will be safer from mercury pollution and heavy metals generated by coal-fired power plants. Like you, President Obama understands that reducing toxic mercury pollution increases the possibilities to dream big.”

Global atmospheric mercury might or might not be a problem—I don’t know. But I do know that mercury emissions from U.S. coal fired plants pose a negligible danger to fetuses. And I know this because EPA told me so.

Mercury emissions aren’t a direct threat to humans; rather, they settle onto bodies of water, and then make their way up the aquatic food chain. Because mercury is a neurotoxin, the fear is that pregnant women can engender development disorders in their fetuses by eating fish that have bio-accumulated mercury. Accordingly, EPA identifies pregnant women as the population at highest risk from U.S. power plant mercury emissions.

The graph below is taken from page 51 of EPA’s Technical Support Document: National-Scale Mercury Risk Assessment Supporting the Appropriate and Necessary Finding for Coal and Oil-Fired Electric Generating Units, which is essentially EPA’s justification for regulating mercury. I’ve crudely photo-shopped the graph to highlight the supposed threat posed by U.S. coal fired power plants to pregnant women.

Three notes: (1) In the proposed rule, EPA stated that 2016 projections for mercury emissions (29 tons) reflect current emissions, so this graph (the “2016 scenario”) represents the current mercury threat; (2) EPA “interpreted IQ loss estimates of 1-2 points as being clearly of public health significance” (p. 17 of the Technical Support Document); and (3), the columns of the graph, “Watershed percentiles,” refer to freshwater, inland bodies of water, and the degree to which they have been polluted by mercury (i.e., the 99th watershed percentile refers to the top one-percent mercury-polluted freshwater, inland body of water).

According to EPA’s own analysis, the new mercury regulation serves to protect America’s population of pregnant, subsistence fisherwomen, who eat 300 pounds of self-caught fish reeled in exclusively from the most polluted bodies of water.  Notably, EPA failed to identify a single member of this supposed population. Instead, these people are assumed to exist. Is that a plausible assumption?

Even if there are one or two pregnant super-anglers with voracious appetites for self-caught fish from the most polluted lakes and rivers, a 1.1 improvement in IQ is such a slight benefit that it could not possibly be disassociated from statistical noise. EPA’s mercury regulation, therefore, is a double whammy of nonsense. It would benefit an apparitional population with a statistically invisible improvement, all for only $10 billion a year. What a deal!

ConservaDave January 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I can’t wait to “dream big” with the Sierra Club (remember what the Sierra Club was before it had been infiltrated and overrun by ecological radicals and communists…back when we used to buy their calendars?) jobless and broke, shivering in my tiny unheated shack after these clowns have turned the U.S.A into a third world nation, praying I just had a little of that poisonous mercury fish to eat.

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