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Press Room:  For Immediate Release 
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet

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March 16, 2011
Contacts: Virginia Cramer, 804-225-9113 x 102
                Oliver Bernstein, 512-289-8618

EPA Proposes Strong Safeguards to Protect Children from Toxic Mercury

Sierra Club to Offer Free Mercury Hair Tests Nationwide to Raise Awareness about Health Dangers of Toxin Produced by Coal-Fired Power Plants

Washington, D.C. -- Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a critical air quality standard to protect Americans against life-threatening air pollution such as mercury, arsenic and other air toxics from power plants, which are currently allowed to emit hazardous air pollution without national limits. The long-overdue and critically important mercury and air toxic standard updates Clean Air Act provisions and establishes emission limits for the nation’s fleet of power plants. According to EPA, each year the new protection will save as many as 17,000 lives and prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma.

"As a father of two young children, I am proud to see the EPA announcing such strong protections from toxic mercury," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "These protections will benefit women, children and all Americans concerned about the dirty coal industry making them sick."

Air toxics include some of the most hazardous air pollutants to human health, and most of them come from dirty power plants. In addition to mercury and arsenic, these polluters emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin and acid gases that threaten public health and child development. Even in small amounts these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature death.

In support of this strong new proposal, the Sierra Club is organizing free testing events around the country where concerned residents – especially women of childbearing age – can get their hair tested by a laboratory for mercury levels. Mercury builds up in the body over time when people eat contaminated fish, and testing people's hair can detect levels of mercury exposure. Major events planned so far include:

• Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune hosting a hair testing event at an Ardmore, Pennsylvania salon today

• Three hair testing events in Alaskan native villages, where residents consume large amounts of fish that may contain elevated mercury levels

• A major hair testing event near Wilmington, North Carolina, in partnership with local health, faith and community organizations

• Additional hair testing events in Milwaukee, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Oklahoma City, OK, Billings, MT, Lexington, KY, Sulphur Springs, TX and more than 10 other cities

Mercury emitted from power plants is particularly harmful because it builds up in people who eat mercury-contaminated fish. A potent neurotoxin especially dangerous to small children and fetuses, mercury exposure even in small amounts has been linked to developmental disorders and learning disabilities. According to EPA studies, the mercury problem in the U.S. is so widespread that at least 1 in 12 – and as many as 1 in 6 – American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put a fetus at risk.

"For decades, Big Coal and Big Oil have fought Clean Air Act protections that would have reduced pollution from their facilities, even though coal plants are the largest sources of dangerous air pollution," said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "I am sure that polluters will try to weaken these protections for our children, but the American people will not let that happen."

As outlined by the Clean Air Act, the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson will set new air toxics pollution limits based on the pollution reduction methods already in use at the cleanest and best-performing facilities in the nation. This approach will lead to safeguards that both reduce air pollution and protect public health. These protections will also help the economy, as a recent study of the 1990 Clean Air Act showed that existing standards contributed $2 trillion in economic activity to the economy while saving lives.

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