President Obama's Stance On Mercury Emission Reduction Protects Cities, Suburbs, & Song Birds

White House/Public Domain
"I will not back down..."

Chistine's recent post, Obama's Mercury Ruling Saves 300,000 Babies a Year From Learning Disabilities, quoted President Obama's State of the Union Speech in which he forcefully stated: "I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poison.”

While the President's mercurial tone was appropriate, few realize why. This line-in-the sand moment comes after decades of corporate push-back against anything EPA might do to curb toxic metal emissions from coal burning.

Have a look at the long column of "Related" posts over to the left side of your screen. That's the history, and it indicates health risks associated with exposure to mercury are serious and widespread. The medical literature on this is indisputable, even by the most fanatical Republican.

Better keep those canaries in the coal mine, away from the mercury.
Here's the latest on where on what mercury does to birds. Anthony DePalma, writing for the New York Times, covered the "Hidden Risk" report from which I took this short citation:

Songbirds and bats suffer some of the same types of neurological disorders from mercury as humans and especially children do, says the study, “Hidden Risk,” by the Biodiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit organization in Gorham, Me., that investigates emerging environmental threats.

Here's why I chose the canary-in-coal-mine simile:

Songbirds with blood mercury levels of just 0.7 parts per million generally showed a 10 percent reduction in the rate at which eggs successfully hatched. As mercury increases, reproduction decreases. At mercury levels of greater than 1.7 parts per million, the ability of eggs to hatch is reduced by more than 30 percent, according to the study.

Human Nest Fouling
One more bird simile; but, my, is it ever appropriate.

When coal burns, mercury in that coal is distilled out as an elemental vapor not bound to particles. The waste heat emanating from a coal boiler stack is enough to keep mercury in vapor form until it is discharged to the atmosphere, where it gradually cools. Once in the atmosphere, mercury can condense, or attach to other particles, much of which is prone to sinking relatively close to the emission source (mercury is heavy - 13.534 g·cm−3 worth of heavy).

Most coal fired generators in the USA were built a half century ago, on what, at the time, would have been thought of as the outskirts of major population centers. Most US cities also happen to have been located on or around rivers and lakes. These are related, critical facts. Read on.

Those fifty-year-old coal burning plants, many of which have since been expanded, with stacks raised higher, were located next to those same surface waters so that water could be used to condense boiler steam. These same plants are now commonly surrounded by the cities and suburbs they serve, sometimes within sight of expensive residences.

This short citation from a recent report from US Geological Survey outlines the danger of mercury precipitation near and on urban areas.

Atmospheric deposition of mercury is about four-times higher in lakes near several major U.S. cities compared to lakes in remote areas, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Atmospheric deposition is the predominant pathway for mercury to reach sensitive ecosystems, where it can accumulate in fish and harm wildlife and humans.

Tags: Barack Obama | Coal | Pollution

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