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On Dec. 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the first-ever federal protections reducing toxic pollutants, primarily mercury, produced by power plants.
This is a major victory for all Americans, and one for which the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations have been fighting for years. An assessment of mercury was required by the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990; so it has taken over 20 years to implement the law.
Evidence shows that mercury, which is a neurotoxin, is damaging to public health. A study in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2005 found that 637,000 babies were born each year with significant amounts of mercury in their bloodstream, with about two-thirds suffering IQ loss. The authors estimated that the lost economic productivity due to decreased intelligence came to about $8.7 billion per year, with $1.3 billion of that attributable to power plants. Other pollutants covered by the new rule, including dioxin, can cause cancer, premature death, heart disease and asthma. The EPA estimates that the regulation will produce $37 billion to $90 billion in health benefits by 2016 (compared with clean-up costs of about $9.6 billion).
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