What do you do when some of the healthiest foods on the planet, fish and shellfish, actually become dangerous to eat? Of course, the dangers of mercury exposure are much more extensive and complex than that, and for that reason the Obama Administration has announced its praise for new protective measures to reduce mercury and other toxic air emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finished our first national standards to reduce toxins. Power plants are the largest man-made source of toxic air emissions such as mercury, arsenic, acid gas, and cyanide in the United States.
When mercury is not emitted naturally from such sources as volcanoes, it comes from human activities like manufacturing or burning coal for fuel.
When mercury falls from the sky through precipitation (rain or snow) into bodies of water like lakes and streams. From here, it works its way up the food chain. Bacteria in soils and sediments convert mercury to methylmercury, at which point it is consumed by small aquatic plants and animals.
At this point, those organisms are consumed by fish which build up methylmercury in their bodies. Then those fish are eaten by bigger fish, which moves the methylmercury up the food chain. This process is referred to as bioaccumulation.
According to the White House, the new proposed standards will help prevent:
- Up to 11,000 premature deaths
- 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis
- 4,700 heart attacks
- 130,000 asthma attacks
- 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits
- 540,000 days when people miss work or school.
Republicans and industry opponents claim that the measures are so extreme that they will cause rolling blackouts throughout the country.