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Mercury, CFLs, and EPA Inconsistency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (and some large businesses) are promoting the sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) as a way to save energy and fight global warming. They want Americans to buy many millions of them over the coming years. But there is one small catch: CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin, and the companies and federal government haven’t come up with effective ways to get Americans to recycle them.

Here is what the EPA says you should do if you break a CFL and have to clean up the breakage.

The EPA released its new air pollution rules on Wednesday, December 21, 2011. The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12% of plants. So all the power plants in this county are to be as “efficient” as the cleanest plants. The EPA rules govern multiple toxic substances, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide. It also says that power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the United States. There are about 1,100 coal-fired burners being used at 600 power plants in the US, with 40% having done nothing, they have no controls, they emit unlimited amounts of pollutants, they have no technology in place, says Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator. The EPA thinks it’s worth spending billions of dollars each year to reduce very small amounts of mercury in the outside air. Lisa Jackson said, “Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases.”

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President and CEO Steve Miller said that the EPA “is out of touch with the hard reality facing American families and businesses. This latest rule will destroy jobs, raise the cost of energy and could even make electricity less reliable.” This is the most expensive rule the EPA has ever imposed.

What is now most curious is the EPA’s inconsistency. They want us consumers to foot the bill (through higher electricity bills) to reduce toxins, particularly mercury. Yet the EPA is actively downplaying mercury’s health risks when it comes from broken CFLs inside people’s homes. In a pamphlet extolling the virtues of CFLs, the EPA says it’s a “myth” that the mercury used in compact fluorescent lights is “dangerous in your home.” “There’s no evidence,” the brochure says, that “brief exposure to the mercury in a broken bulb presents a health risk to you or your family.” There’s no meaningful health risk from either the bulbs or the power plants. As a 2004 paper published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution noted, “mercury exposure at current levels is unlikely to be causing harm.” (see the report’s executive summary)

Further, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that the new regulations will save 17,000 lives and generate up to $140 billion in health benefits. There is no factual basis for these assertions. To build its case, EPA systematically ignored evidence and clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use. The latest EPA studies indicate that power plants emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury per year. Yet volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers, and other sources emit 9,000-10,000 tons per year! US power plants account for less than 0.5 percent of all the mercury in the air Americans breathe. Even eliminating every milligram of this mercury will do nothing about the other 99.5 percent in America’s atmosphere. And yet, in the face of these minuscule risks, these EPA demands that utility companies spend billions every year retrofitting coal-fired power plants that produce half of all US electricity.

The EPA based its “safe” mercury criteria on a study of Faroe Islands inhabitants, whose diet is quite different from our own – they eat few fruits and vegetables, but do eat pilot whale meat and blubber that is laced with mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but very low in selenium. A natural defense against mercury comes from selenium, which is found in fish and animals. Its strong attraction to mercury molecules protects fish and people against buildups of methylmercury, mercury’s biologically active and more toxic form. The study has limited relevance to the US population. The EPA’s actions can be counted on to achieve only one thing – further advance the Obama administration’s oft-stated goal of penalizing hydrocarbon use, making coal-based electricity prices “skyrocket.”

The real risk to the nation’s health isn’t from minute traces of mercury coming out of powerplant smokestacks or broken CFLs, but from the economy-crushing mandates coming from Obama’s EPA.

But that’s just my opinion.

Access to other articles like this one can be found at RWNO, my personal web site.

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