Poison and the Price We Pay
January 11, 2011
Last week I wrote about a congressional bill (H.R. 97) that would stop the Environ>mental Protection Agency from cleaning up pollutants — by simply changing the definition of pollutant. Another, equally bizarre, attempt to keep the Lisa Jackson and the EPA from doing their job is Representative John Carter’s (R- TX) bill to roll back new limits on pollutants from cement-plant kilns — particularly mercury.
What’s really shocking isn’t that the EPA is finally ready to clean up those mercury emissions — but that it’s taken this long. We’re talking about a neurotoxin that’s so potent that 1/70th of a teaspoon can contaminate a 25-acre lake. And yet some cement plants dump hundreds of pounds of it into our air every year. From there it settles in our waterways, contaminates fish, and ultimately ends up in our bodies. Children (including the unborn) are particularly vulnerable to severe neurological consequences.
No one, including Rep. Carter, disputes any of that. Instead, they argue that, economically, this just isn’t the right time to cut down on pollution and protect people’s health. But when we’re talking about life-threatening toxins, is there ever a wrong time to stop poisoning children and pregnant women?
Of course not.
Some good news: we can save lives and save money. The new EPA rules should generate $7 to $19 in public health benefits for each dollar they cost the cement industry to comply. Some things, though, are more important than the price you pay. These cement-kiln rules will save the lives of thousands of Americans — many of them children.
I’ve seen legislators who should know better call the EPA “overzealous.” I think that saving lives is better described as “heroic.” If you agree, now’s the time to let your own Congressional representative know about it.
Mike Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club