Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Largest Mercury Hair Sampling Project Confirms Negative Impact of Coal-burning Power Plants

One in Five Women Tested Nationwide Has Mercury Level Higher Than EPA Limit

Results of the United States largest mercury hair sampling project were released today by the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. The report found mercury levels exceeding the EPA's recommended limit of one microgram of mercury per gram of hair in one in five women of childbearing age tested.

More than 6,600 people from 50 states of all ages participated in the hair tests conducted by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Mercury contamination is a particular concern for women of childbearing years (16 to 49 years old)and their small children (under the age of six) because mercury exposure in the womb can cause neurological damage and other health problems. The EPA has not established mercury exposure health standards for older children, men, or women older than 49.

Coal burning power plants are the U.S.'s biggest mercury polluter, releasing 42% of the country's industrial mercury pollution. Mercury from these power plants falls into lakes, streams and oceans, concentrating in fish and shellfish, which are then consumed by people.

"In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption," said Dr. Steve Patch, Co-director of EQI and co-author of the report. "We saw a direct relationship between people's mercury levels and the amount of store-bought fish, canned tuna fish or locally caught fish people consumed."

"This study should be a wake-up call for state governments to move to clean sources of energy in order to keep women and children mercury-free," said Navis Bermudez, Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Representative.

"Greenpeace started the Mercury Hair Sampling Project in response to President Bush's failure to clean up power plant mercury pollution," stated Greenpeace campaigner Casey Harrell. "It was very disappointing to hear President Bush call for more coal burning power plants in the State of the Union address when clean energy sources are available."

In 2005, the EPA proposed weak power plant mercury regulations that violate the Clean Air Act according to an ongoing lawsuit filed by 15 State Attorneys General. Switching from coal and oil to wind and solar energy would reduce pollution and its negative health impacts, help solve global warming and create jobs.

To purchase a home hair sampling kit, or to view the EQI report and supporting documents visit the Sierra Club's mercury page.

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