Don't let fish take your temperature

As a “veggiequarium” (or the proper term, Pescetarian, one who abstains from eating any meat, except for seafood), it is always a concern when I hear about preventable, dangerous levels of mercury being released into the environment. The largest contributor to airborne mercury pollution in the United States is coal-powered power plants, more than all other industries combined.

When mercury enters the atmosphere from the smokestacks it returns in precipitation (either rain or snow) and enters waterways, where it is absorbed by the residing marine life. This can accumulate in their systems and render them unfit for consumption as, in the past, there have been murmurs that seafood is therefore unhealthy to eat. 

What is so harmful about mercury? The silver element that used to help doctors tell if someone had a fever is toxic, especially during certain times of development. Particularly sensitive are children younger than the age of 2, as well as pregnant women. Early exposure can lead to “irreversible deficits in attention and motor control, damage to verbal skills, and reduced IQ.” What is even more disturbing is that this is not an issue sequestered to a small portion of the population; 1 in 10 women of childbearing age in the US has already reached the threshold of contamination, and is at risk of having a child with developmental damage.

Armed with this knowledge, the Environmental Protection Agency developed the first national standard to limit the release of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. With this regulation, power plants will be required to cut air pollutants by over 90% with existing and successful technology. This will not only reduce mercury contaminations in waterways but will also prove to be a fiscally responsible decision,  as the “EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American Public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits. In total, the rules could provide as much as $140 billion worth of benefits annually.”

Environment America has developed a report ranking states and power plants according to their mercury emissions. Texas was the leader in airborne mercury pollution, followed by Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2010. American Electric Power lead with 6,200 pounds of mercury emissions, and the top 5 companies were responsible for more than one third of all emissions.

With these new standards, the EPA is taking steps to protect Americans and needs our support. Encourage your members of Congress to support the EPA and prevent the fish we eat from being able to take our temperature.