Skip to content

Cutting Mercury and Protecting America’s Children

2011 December 21

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

From historic efforts to cut pollution from American automobiles to strong measures to prevent power plant pollution from crossing state lines, 2011 was already a banner year for clean air and the health of the American people. And the EPA is closing out the year with our biggest clean air protection yet.

Last week, we finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, a rule that will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards that limited the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a result, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old.

That last point is especially significant to me as a mother. I understand the importance of MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics and abstract concepts.

What we’re really talking about with all those numbers above are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. We are talking about reducing the levels of mercury in the fish that we and our kids eat every day. We are talking about future generations growing up healthier because there is less toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

Find out how MATS will protect health in your state.

What we’re also talking about with MATS are thousands of new opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy.

To meet the MATS standards over the next several years, many power plants will have to upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units that are covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that the demands for workers will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. Families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about.

In this holiday season as we gather with our friends and families, Americans can take pride in the gift of clean air. Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection.

About the author: Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Find out more about how MATS works:


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

23 Responses leave one →
  1. Kathy Jones permalink
    December 21, 2011


  2. Jennifer Canvasser permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Thank you for ensuring a healthier, safer environment for my family!

  3. Mariah Boone permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Thank you! This is wonderful news! I just wish it would happen sooner and save us form Las Brisas in Texas!

  4. Mark Sandeen permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Thank you for protecting our clean air, our clean water, our health and the health of our environment!

  5. P Chris... permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Mercury sounds bad. We should get rid of it and keep from exposing ourselves. So why are we forcing americans to use compact flourescent light bulbs which contain on average 4mg of mercury per light bulb???

    According to OSHA the max allowable exposure to mercury is 0.1 mg/liter. Umm guys… 4mg is a lot more than 0.1!!!

    Your concern about mercury seems hypocritical.

  6. Middle Class Worker permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Thank you for increasing my electric bill and cutting jobs.

  7. Rich Eardley permalink
    December 21, 2011

    Looks like you have all the info there except what this will cost the average home owner to pay for the 54,000 jobs created by this. And will this come in the form of an increase per KWH or will there be a line item tax? I would prefer the line item so I can tell exactly what the cost is to me. Thank you.

  8. kiyohisa tanada permalink
    December 22, 2011

    Of me lived, and “a Japanese nuclear power plant” was destroyed by a tsunami.
    The later processing was a human mistake, and damage became heavy.
    “The nuclear power generation” “is the generation institution” which we will stop “in the future”.
    “The thermal power generation” does production of mercury, and it is a problem.
    “Oil” and “coal” do not use the fuel,
    If they use “natural gas” including “LPG”, outbreak is suppressed.
    In addition,
    As for “the methane hydrate”, existence is confirmed in the American bottom of the sea.
    This becomes the important fuel.
    “It is the “research and development” commercialization of the dig” afterward.
    I pray for “the asthma of children” being cured early.

  9. Mike Knapp permalink
    December 22, 2011

    Thank you Ms. Jackson. This country should be burning clean natural gas which contains no mercury whatsoever.

  10. wade harter permalink
    December 22, 2011

    Ms Jackson why do we want to “clean up the air” and then polute our houses, the soil and groundwater with mercury from compact flourscent bulbs. On top of this we are shutting down many power plants which will increase the cost of energy. On top of this all compact bulbs are made in ASIA, thereby creating jobs overseas. Of course it appears that the goal of our gov’t is to eliminate manufacturing, thereby eliminating the middle class of people.

  11. Brandon Brown permalink
    December 23, 2011

    How come in this report you don’t state how many American jobs will be lost in the 70+ Coal factories that are not capable of adhering to these new regulations? Don’t get me wrong I love green energy, but this will very potentially hurt the American people when their electric bills double if not triple this time next year.

  12. Bob Mendenhall permalink
    December 29, 2011

    I am all for a cleaner environment. But for those of us who depend on machines to help us just breath at night when we sleep, the thought of possible blackouts or brownouts which may happen because of this makes me quite concerned. I wonder how well the implications of these rules were thought out.

  13. Jon K permalink
    December 31, 2011

    The EPA is doing the right thing at the wrong time. In a more robust economy, such regulations would make a lot of sense. With the U.S. economy as fragile as it is, such sweeping regulations could likely plunge the nation back into recession. (Thank goodness for the judge’s stay!)

    We really do not need this right now.

  14. January 3, 2012

    Thanks for once again helping get this country away from the very thing it was built on – affordable energy. It’s no wonder that nothing is produced in this country anymore when ‘acts’ such as this make it harder and more expensive to manufacture any products/goods.

    Everyone is worried about their grandchildren’s health, but no one cares what their grandchildren’s electric bill will cost.

    What really humors me is that this country believes that if we clean our act up (even though it’s really not nearly as bad as the EPA makes it sound) all the air pollution problems will be solved. The EPA acts as if air doesn’t migrate overseas, from countries such as China. They’re burning as much coal & keep emitting SOx, NOx, mercury and all the other fun toxins, and all the while they’re laughing in our face while we keep burying ourselves deeper in the hole. So let’s punish ourselves and play by (crippling) rules while no one else is.

    This EPA administration and a lot of this country need to get a grip on reality. It’s truly a shame that the EPA and state DEP’s get away with what they do.

    I wish for once the general public could be truly educated and have a say in issues like this, but evidently Washington doesn’t care what we think. I’d be interested to hear the kind of backgrounds these ‘rulemakers’ have. Hard to believe there is any practical industry experience floating around the capital. But then again, THE GOV KNOWS BEST!

  15. sara permalink
    January 4, 2012

    nice post

  16. Greg frazier permalink
    January 9, 2012

    I agree with this post. You are doing all this to power plants for clean air, well the power companys like AEP is passing the expense on down to us in the end with higher rates!! Make people move away from power plants.
    I understand Obama is trying to get rid of Coal dependance in this country period! He needs to go. That is our backbone for the economy!
    But other countries can do the same without any regulations? This is stupid!!

  17. Kitchen Benchtops permalink
    January 22, 2012

    “Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection” – a beginner will enjoy this. Thank you for protecting our environment

  18. Jeff C permalink
    January 22, 2012

    Dear Chris,
    You bring up an interesting point, though your conflating a raw mass with a concentration. The OSHA limit is an air concentration, and I believe it’s actually 0.1mg/m^3 . So it depends on the size of the room and the air turn over. Unless the room was smaller then about 50 cubic meters, (which is not particularly large) it would not be over the OSHA limit, and that assumes all the mercury volatilizes and there is no change in the air, which is unlikely.

    Not to say mercury from light bulbs is not something to be concerned about, you should certainly properly clean up and dispose of the CFL. But it shouldn’t be used as an argument against other regulation. We should work to reducing all the mercury that might get into the environment and harm our children, and right now coal combustion is a much much larger source then CFLs.


  19. Michael Klein permalink
    January 26, 2012

    Middle Class Worker, most things in life are trade-offs. There are few things in life that don’t have their downsides. In order to lead healthier lives, we may need to put up with higher electric bills and see a slow-down in job growth. But there are ways to compensate. What we can’t compensate for is the enormous damage that atmospheric mercury is capable of causing.

  20. soon to be unemployed permalink
    February 10, 2012

    lisa, please update.

  21. soon to be unemployed permalink
    February 13, 2012

    lisa, you seemed to have misplaced my first comment, which read,9 power plants down,645 americans soon to be out of work. more to come. save your money, you will need it to pay your electric bill. please print this one.

  22. August 8, 2012

    It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  23. bizworldusa permalink
    August 30, 2012

    This is nice post and helpfull piece of of information.This country should be burning clean natural gas which contains no mercury whatsoever.
    thank you

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS