Friday, September 16, 2005

Mercury pollution is never OK

If President Bush was aloof to the Katrina calamity while thousands of pitiable, dispossessed Gulf Coasters struggled to survive, his administration is even more cold-blooded in its indifference to the threat of toxic pollutants.

This week, the White House, joined by cronies in the electric utility industry, sent their strong-arm operatives to the Senate to crush a revolt against a rule exempting utilities from airborne mercury standards under the Clean Air Act and allowing them until 2018 to avoid reducing emissions drastically.

Yet, the slim 51-47 margin indicates growing doubts about Bush environmental policies and his catering to industry.

Mercury pollution draws yawns from the White House. Elsewhere, the dreadful costs of mercury are treated as real.

· Gulf coast environmental cleanup crews are alarmed about hazards to health of an estimated 4,000 pounds of poisonous mercury from hundreds of thousands of electrical switches mixed in Katrina debris that cannot be separated during disposal and will expose people to risks.

· Dr. Leonardo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and Environment at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, cites new findings that women exposed to mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants give birth each year to 231 children nationwide with mental retardation.

· Samples of swordfish meat from markets in 22 states were found by a University of North Carolina laboratory this week to contain mercury levels above the government's legal limit. Fish ingest other fish and other organisms contaminated by mercury from industrial waste.

· The Indonesian government has filed criminal charges and a $133.6 million damage lawsuit against Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp., the world's largest gold producer, for allegedly dumping millions of tons of pollutants—including mercury—into Buyat Bay that have apparently caused widespread illness.

Mercury is a killer. President Bush's contempt for human health, but high regard for electric utility profits, is endangering countless millions of Americans who cannot escape noxious emissions of power plants in their communities.

The cynicism is exceeded only by the utility industry's reprehensible unwillingness to install better emission controls.

The aphorism of "what goes around comes around" has become a reality. Lack of leadership led to the disastrously flawed Katrina rescue that has led to declining confidence in the president.

Just as certainly, his inclination to allow abuse of the environment for industrial profit rather than siding with common sense safeguards will boomerang.

Then the nation will be treated to another presidential "I take full responsibility" moment on TV, but it will be too late for those who couldn't survive his disregard for health.

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