Proposed rules could raise electricity costs while harming human health
On May 24, the Environmental Assessment and Restoration Division of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued a draft report proposing much stricter limits for mercury in Florida’s river, stream, lake and coastal waters. The FDEP claims the rules are based on sound science and will improve public health.
However, my studies of mercury and its biologically toxic form, methylmercury, over the past 10 years make it clear that the report is seriously flawed and the new limits are not scientifically defensible. Florida’s actions should raise red flags for Sunshine State residents, other states, the United States as a whole and even other countries.
Not only would they drive up emission-mitigation costs for utilities and raise electricity costs for Floridians – with no subsequent health or environmental benefits – the FDEP actions actually would harm people’s health.
First, the FDEP is incorrect in claiming that mercury pollution is a new, man-made phenomenon.
The department cites a 2008 paper that found average mercury levels of 0.25 parts per million (ppm) in the hair of Florida Panhandle women of childbearing age (16 to 49). However, a 2002 study of 550-year-old Alaskan mummified bodies found hair mercury levels five to 18 times higher: an average of 1.2 ppm for four adults and 1.44 ppm for four infants – and 4.6 ppm in one mummy.
The FDEP draft report also failed to mention other recent studies that found no significant increase in mercury levels for tuna caught between 1971 and 1998, demonstrating that mercury in fish is not related to human emissions, which continue to decline steadily in the United States.
The draft report also ignored a 17-year-long Seychelles Islands study that found no harm from mercury in children whose mothers ate five to 12 servings of fish per week – far more than most Floridians consume. In establishing methylmercury exposure risks from fish consumption, the researchers concluded that no consistent patterns exist between prenatal methylmercury exposure and detailed neurological and behavioral testing.
They also emphasized that “ocean fish consumption during pregnancy is important for the health and development of children, and the benefits are long-lasting.”
Moreover, the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show blood mercury levels for U.S. women and children are already below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “safe” levels for mercury – the most restrictive standards in the world. In addition, selenium in nearly all fish is strongly attracted to mercury molecules and thus protects people against buildups of methylmercury.
By scaring women and children into eating less fish, and thus getting fewer Omega 3 fatty acids, FDEP’s misleading literature on “dangerous mercury levels” in fish actually will impair their health.
Second, the FDEP failed to note that natural sources dwarf human mercury emissions.