New Mercury and Air Toxics Standards: Historic Victory for Healthier Air

(December 22, 2011)

Standards to clean up mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil- fired power plants, announced on Wednesday December 21 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mark an historic victory for healthier air in the United States. These new standards, which Congress first required EPA to set more than 21 years ago, will save lives and improve the health and development of millions, especially children.

The American Lung Association thanks President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for putting the health of our children first by closing the “toxic loophole” that allowed life-threatening air pollutants from coal-and oil-fired power plants to go unregulated. Finally, all power plants will meet the new standards. Half of the country’s plants already have installed modern emissions controls, now is the time to finish the job. The Lung Association called for this cleanup back in March with our report on Toxic Air.

These final standards will protect Americans against life-threatening air pollutants like mercury, arsenic and other toxics linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death. Each year they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.

More than 400 coal- and oil-fired power plants located in more than 40 states across the country release in excess of 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere each year. This pollution impacts not only people who live near those power plants, but also those living hundreds of miles away.

Still, there are some big polluters and their allies in Congress who want to delay the cleanup by years. But there is no justification for more needless deaths, disease and damage to children’s neurological development.

Since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 companies have been on notice that this cleanup was coming. There is technology available now that American companies make and American workers will install to lower emissions.

Many power companies have already made the investment or have plans to comply. They are to be commended. Now is the time for remainder to spend money on cleanup, and work to maximize the pollution reductions to help those that breathe the air downwind from your smokestacks. No one wants to breathe secondhand smog any more.

To learn more, and join the fight for healthy air, visit