In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first national standard for emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the country's Number 1 contributor to climate change. But Rep. Joe Barton took issue with the EPA's move, and argued that "to cause poisoning or a premature death, you have to get a large concentration of mercury into the body... I am not a medical doctor, but my hypothesis is that is not going to happen. You are not going to get enough mercury exposure or SO2 exposure or even particulate matter exposure." In a letter released today, the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association took exception to Barton's comments and attempted to draw a clear link between the deleterious effects of burning coal and public health.
From their press release:
"Rep. Barton and other members of Congress cannot continue to ignore the evidence that air pollution directly affects public health and has had devastating consequences for thousands of Americans," said Albert A. Rizzo, MD, the Chair-elect of the American Lung Association.
"Public health and medical professionals are concerned that failure to uphold EPA standards - the only safeguards Americans have against toxic pollutants - will cause patients to suffer greater exposure to mercury, particulate matter, and other pollutants.
Specifically, the letter addresses Rep. Barton's statement that mercury and particulate pollution do not pose health threats to the public. Rep. Barton prefaced his remarks by stating that "he is not a doctor," but then went on to suggest that EPA pulled the numbers "out of thin air." Included with the letter is a bibliography of published, peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate the negative health effects mercury and particulate matter exposure has on patients.
"Hazardous air emissions are linked to a whole range of serious and immediate human health risks," said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of American Public Health Association. "These dangerous pollutants can worsen asthma and other respiratory diseases; cause heart attacks, cancers and stroke; and exact an enormous economic toll in terms of health-related costs and lost productivity. The Clean Air Act is a critical public health intervention that safeguards communities across the country from dangerous air pollutants and must be protected."
Indeed, over and over again coal has been found to be dangerous for public health. That's why frontline communities are standing up to protest old relics, like the Crawford plant in Chicago and hundred more like it. Stay tuned to see if Rep. Barton answers the coalition that called him out today.