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MedGenMed. 2006 Mar 9;8(1):64.

Assessing and managing methylmercury risks associated with power plant mercury emissions in the United States.

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HealthRisk Strategies, Washington, DC, USA.


Until the Clean Air Mercury Rule was signed in March 2005, coal-fired electric utilities were the only remaining, unregulated major source of industrial mercury emissions in the United States. Proponents of coal-burning power plants assert that methylmercury is not a hazard at the current environmental levels, that current technologies for limiting emissions are unreliable, and that reducing mercury emissions from power plants in the United States will have little impact on environmental levels. Opponents of coal-burning plants assert that current methylmercury exposures from fish are damaging to the developing nervous system of infants, children, and the fetus; that current technology can significantly limit emissions; and that reducing emissions will reduce exposure and risk. One concern is that local mercury emissions from power plants may contribute to higher local exposure levels, or "hot spots." The impact of the Mercury Rule on potential hot spots is uncertain due to the highly site-specific nature of the relationship between plant emissions and local fish methylmercury levels. The impact on the primary source of exposure in the United States, ocean fish, is likely to be negligible due to the contribution of natural sources and industrial sources outside the United States. Another debate centers on the toxic potency of methylmercury, with the scientific basis of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) recommended exposure limit questioned by some and defended by others. It is likely that the EPA's exposure limit may be appropriate for combined exposure to methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but may be lower than the available data suggest is necessary to protect children from methylmercury alone. Mercury emissions from power plants are a global problem. Without a global approach to developing and implementing clean coal technologies, limiting US power plant emissions alone will have little impact.

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