EPA, State of Colorado, Childrens Hospital Highlight Benefits of New Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

At Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, Colo., representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Trout Unlimited, and ADA Environmental Solutions, Inc. to highlight the benefits of EPA’s newly issued Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic pollutants such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide. The standards will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available pollution controls.

"This long-awaited effort to reduce toxic air pollution from oil and coal-fired power plants means cleaner air and healthier waters for Colorado," said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. "The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect Colorado’s families from harmful pollution and will generate health benefits and economic investments that far outweigh the costs of compliance."

EPA estimates the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent up to 140 premature deaths and create $1.1 billion in health benefits annually in Colorado beginning in 2016, when the rules become fully effective. Mercury has been shown to harm the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb, impairing thinking, learning and early development. Other pollutants that will be reduced by these standards can cause cancer, premature death, heart disease and asthma. The standards will apply to generating units at a dozen coal-fired power plants in Colorado and will reinforce the State’s efforts to address air emissions from facilities.

“Children’s Hospital Colorado, as the home of one of the nation’s best pediatric breathing centers, applauds the EPA in becoming a partner with us in our on-going efforts to reduce breathing disorders in children,” said Robin Deterding, MD, medical director, the Breathing Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “By passing new air quality standards that will drastically cut the amount of harmful toxins in our air, our children’s health can only improve, leading to happier and healthier lives.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will also improve the health of surface waters in Colorado and throughout the West, which are affected by the transport and deposition of mercury from power plant emissions and other sources. When mercury from the air reaches water, microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, waterfowl and mammals. In Colorado, the State has current fish consumption advisories for mercury in place at 22 lakes and reservoirs.

"Colorado has already taken steps to reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and is well poised to implement these new rules,” said Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Existing Colorado regulations and the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will lead to significant reductions of air pollution emissions in Colorado, including mercury."

More than 20 years ago, a bipartisan Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury. To meet this requirement, EPA worked extensively with stakeholders, including industry, to minimize cost and maximize flexibilities in final standards announced in December. EPA estimates that manufacturing, engineering, installing and maintaining the pollution controls to meet these standards will provide employment for thousands across the U.S., potentially including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.

Nationally, the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also help America’s children grow up healthier – preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a range of other dangerous pollutants, and are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 percent of the acid gas emissions in the United States. Today, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy pollution control technologies that will help them meet these achievable standards. Once final, these standards will level the playing field by ensuring the remaining plants – about 40 percent of all coal fired power plants - take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.

As part of the commitment to maximize flexibilities under the law, the standards are accompanied by a Presidential Memorandum that directs EPA to use tools provided in the Clean Air Act to implement the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in a cost-effective manner that ensures electric reliability. For example, under these standards, EPA is not only providing the standard three years for compliance, but also encouraging permitting authorities to make a fourth year broadly available for technology installations, and if still more time is needed, providing a well-defined pathway to address any localized reliability problems should they arise.

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