mercury

In Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was disappointing to everyone working to protect public health by reducing emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  But as we take stock of what this decision means, there are some important factors that make me confident we are still on track to reduce this dangerous pollution and better protect America’s children, families and communities.

Most notably – the Administration remains committed to finalizing the Clean Power Plan this summer and yesterday’s ruling will have no bearing on the effort to reduce carbon pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Second – this decision is very narrow.  It did not invalidate the rule, which remains in effect today.  In fact, the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.  The Court found that EPA should have considered costs at an earlier step in the rulemaking process than it did.  The court did not question EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution from power plants provided it considers cost in that step.  It also did not question our conclusions on human health that supported the agency’s finding that regulation is needed.  And its narrow ruling does not disturb the remainder of the D.C. Circuit decision which unanimously upheld all other aspects of the MATS rule and rejected numerous challenges to the standards themselves.

Third – this decision does not affect other Clean Air Act programs that address other sources and types of air pollution. It hinged on a very specific section of the Act that applies exclusively to the regulation of air toxics from power plants.  This is important to understand because it means that rules and programs that reduce other types of pollutants under other sections of the Clean Air Act—like ozone and fine particles (smog and soot) can continue without interruption or delay.

The decision does not affect the Clean Power Plan, which EPA will be finalizing later this summer and which will chart the course for this country to reduce harmful carbon from its fleet of existing power plants.   That’s worth repeating: The Court’s conclusion that EPA must consider cost when determining whether it is “appropriate” to regulate toxic air emissions from utilities under section 112 of the Act will not impact the development of the Clean Power Plan under section 111.  Cost is among the factors the Agency has long explicitly considered in setting standards under section 111 of the Act.

Fourth – America’s power sector is getting cleaner year after year by investing in more modern technologies.   Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. The Clean Power Plan will build on these current positive trends.  That means cleaner air in communities across the country, as well as a boost to our economy as we build the clean energy system of the future.

Finally – What’s next for MATS?   From the moment we learned of this decision, we were committed to ensuring that standards remain in place to protect the public from toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities.  We will continue to work to make that happen.  There are questions that will need to be answered over the next several weeks and months as we review the decision and determine the appropriate next steps once that review is complete.  But as I’ve already noted, MATS is still in place and many plants have already installed controls and technologies to reduce their mercury emissions.

After nearly 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, there have been many more victories than defeats as we’ve worked together to clean the air and raise healthier children and families.  Despite the Supreme Court’s MATS decision, the agency remains confident that the progress we’ve made so far in improving air quality and protecting public health will continue.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Poison Prevention Starts with You – Protect Your Kids and Pets

By: Administrator Gina McCarthy & Elliot Kaye, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

There are some things in life we can’t control – like traffic or our favorite sports team’s performance. But there are plenty of things we can control—and protecting our kids from poison is one.

This is National Poison Prevention Week, which leads into the start of spring cleaning. It’s important to remember that kids and pets are more sensitive to chemicals than adults. Every second in the United States, there are 25 calls to poison control centers, with the majority related to children. Each year, an estimated 80,000 children go to the emergency room with poisonings. Almost 75 percent of those are from sources in their homes. Let’s make sure our loved ones are not part of those statistics.

Most of us know that household cleaners and sanitizers, insect repellents and medicines can pose a serious poison risk for children. Some of these products are colorful and appealing, and could look like candy or toys to young children. But other poison hazards around our homes might be less familiar. Here are three for you to be especially aware of:

  1. Coin sized batteries in TV remotes and other electronics can cause chemical burns if lodged in the throat. With encouragement from the government, battery manufacturers are working on a design solution that would prevent the deadly poisoning hazard with coin cell/button batteries. But, they are not there yet.
  2. Exposure to the contents of single-load liquid laundry packets have led to at least one tragic death and thousands of children being treated in emergency rooms. At the urging of the government, manufacturers are developing a safety standard that would make it harder for children to get their hands on these poisonous packets. They, too, are not there yet.
  3. Old mercury thermometers can break and must be properly disposed of and cleaned up. Also, mercury is USED IN TRACE AMOUNTS IN [an essential part of] CFL lightbulbs. It allows a bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (i.e., not broken) or in use. If a bulb breaks, follow these important steps: http://www2.epa.gov/cfl/cleaning-broken-cfl.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community

By Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner

At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically. Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.

Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.

Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.

To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.

We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.

Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.

About the authors:

Marianne Bailey is the Senior Advisor for the Environmental Media Program in EPA’s Office of Global Affairs and Policy, Office of International and Tribal Affairs. She serves as the agency staff lead for EPA’s involvement in the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, and was the lead U.S. negotiator for the convention’s provisions on artisanal gold mining.

Karissa Taylor Kovner is a Senior Policy Advisor for International Affairs in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. She was the lead U.S. negotiator for the United States in the areas of products and storage for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and contributed to a number of other areas, including trade and supply.

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.

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EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety

For all of their beneficial uses, chemicals can also pose potential risks: manufacturing them can create emissions and waste, and exposure to them can impact our health and the environment. One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals.

Last October, Administrator McCarthy asked EPA employees to log into GreenSpark, our internal online employee engagement platform, and share stories of the innovative and collaborative work that they are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety. I’d like to share some of their exciting work with you.

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Developing Innovative Science: EPA’s Office of Research and Development, with support from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working to change the way we evaluate chemical safety to make it quicker and easier to understand the potential toxic effects of chemicals on human health and the environment. Here are a couple of great examples:

We’ve developed the Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast), which uses automated chemical screening technologies to understand the effects of chemical exposure. ToxCast evaluated more than 2,000 chemicals from a broad range of sources, including potentially “green” chemicals that could be safer alternatives to existing chemicals. Based on this work, the new Interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability (iCSS) Dashboard provides a user-friendly web-based application that offers product manufacturers, researchers, and others a faster way to evaluate the safety of chemicals. ToxCast data is also being applied in the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to target priority chemicals and avoid expensive and time-consuming animal testing methods.

CHEMzebraAnother innovative approach that our Office of Research and Development scientists are developing is a program using zebrafish to rapidly screen standard chemicals and their green alternatives for their ability to affect developing embryos.

CHEMHorizMaking Use of Data: Several EPA programs work daily to make sure the public, communities, regulators and industry have access to data that keeps people safe. EPA’s Office of Environmental Information is working to integrate facilities data relating to chemical plants and their relationship to communities. This work, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, and other agencies supports Executive Order (EO) 13650: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security and helps inform planning and emergency preparedness and response for safer communities.

Providing Technical Assistance: Artisanal and small scale gold mining is the largest man-made source of mercury. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. To reduce airborne mercury emissions from artisanal and small scale gold mining, EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs worked with Argonne National Laboratory to develop a simple mercury capture system (MCS).

Data collected during site visits in the Amazon and high Andes areas of Peru showed that in shops with the installed MCS technology, mercury vapor concentrations were reduced by 80% compared to shops without the technology. We are now working to raise awareness of the mercury capture technology in developing countries through partnerships with key organizations.

CHEMpeoplestandingWorking in Collaborative Partnerships: Working with local partners including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), EPA Region 2 is helping improve chemical management in high school and college laboratories and the adoption of green chemistry practices through hands-on training for high school science teachers and college faculty in New York. More than 200 teachers from 138 school districts and 29 college and university faculty have participated in trainings, and faculty participants have produced ten case studies on implementing green chemistry practices in college and university settings. This is just one example of the work that our Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention is leading along with our Regional Offices to promote innovations in green chemistry.

Please join me in thanking all of the talented, dedicated employees who have contributed to these and other amazing activities that improve the human health and environment of the communities we serve.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Expectant Moms, Parents, and Everyone Else Should Read This!

By Jessica Orquina

I never thought much about mercury in fish. I like seafood, and have heard there may be some health concerns, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Then, I became pregnant and started reading all the information I could find about health and nutrition for expectant mothers, including about mercury in fish.

I learned that eating fish with high levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. I also learned what types of fish have higher and lower levels of mercury so I could focus my diet on those fish that were safer to eat.

Last fall, my son was born, and now I’m back at work. I was interested to learn EPA has been working with FDA to recommend new draft advice for fish consumption. In the past, our advice was based solely on the health concerns caused by eating fish with high levels of mercury. The new recommendations still consider that issue, but they also look at the health benefits of eating seafood.

I strongly urge you to read the new draft advice (Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know), share your thoughts with us, and adjust your family’s diet accordingly. While mercury consumption is a big concern for expectant mothers and young children, it can affect everyone’s health.

So, take a minute and read this document. I did.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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.

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Eat Fish, but Choose Wisely

By John Martin

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish is the same.

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish are the same.

New Yorkers have access to every food imaginable. From the most exclusive restaurants to the hundreds of food carts scattered throughout the city, there is something here for every palate and every budget.

With this much variety, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of our favorite foods can contain hidden risks. For instance, although fish can be a source of high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids and many vitamins and minerals, some species of fish can also contain harmful elements, like PCBs and mercury.

The EPA recently released the results of the agency’s New York City Commercial Market Seafood Study, which examined mercury concentrations in the most commonly consumed seafood in New York. Although the amount of mercury normally found in fish is not a health concern for most, the risk can be high for those eating certain kinds of fish and for unborn babies and young children. For instance, high levels of mercury can harm a young child’s developing nervous system.

During the study, EPA scientists purchased samples of 33 seafood species from vendors at the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, which supplies most of the fresh seafood sold to restaurants and stores in the New York area. After extensive testing of the collected samples, the species found to have the highest mercury concentrations were tuna, swordfish, Spanish mackerel, and mahi-mahi. Shellfish tended to have the lowest overall concentrations.

The entire NYC Commercial Market Seafood Study, including findings on all the fish species EPA tested, can be found here.

Although many people eat high-mercury seafood, the good news is that people are consuming less of it. Another recent EPA study has found that blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent from a survey conducted in 1999-2000 to follow-up surveys conducted from 2001 to 2010. Additionally, the percentage of women of childbearing age with blood mercury levels above the EPA’s level of concern decreased 65 percent from the 1999-2000 survey and the follow-up surveys from 2001-2010. A likely reason for these decreases was that women had shifted from eating higher-mercury types of fish to lower-mercury types of fish.

The lesson here? If you like fish, keep eating fish– just make sure you educate yourself and choose your fish wisely.

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.

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Mercury Rising 2: Electric Boogaloo

By Amber Tucker

Last week I briefly gave an introduction about mercury in the environment, and let you know that I would follow it up with  details from the September 12th, Mercury in the Environment Symposium held at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS.   Hosted by Haskell, with support from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), US EPA Region 7, and the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the symposium served as a gathering of minds from Tribal, Federal, and undergrad Haskell students, all ready to learn and discuss the effects of mercurial deposition and monitoring in our environment.

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Haskell University, Lawrence, KS

We heard from David Gay, coordinator for the NADP, about the efforts of his agency to provide measurements of both depositional and atmospheric mercury across the country.  Their two programs, the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN), and the Atmospheric Mercury Network (AMNet), collaborate with several partners from federal and state agencies, Tribal Nations, universities and research institutions as well as private organizations and businesses, to monitor and collect data and provide high quality measurements to support an array of objectives.  This national monitoring network measures total mercury in one-week precipitation samples at 80 sites across the United States. The objective of the MDN is to develop a national database of weekly concentrations of total mercury in precipitation and the seasonal and annual flux of total mercury in wet deposition. The data will be used to develop information on spatial and seasonal trends in mercury deposited to surface waters, forested watersheds, and other sensitive receptors.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is one of NADP’s members, and currently operates monitoring stations for the MDN.  Wet deposition uses air monitoring stations to collect data using weekly samples or samples collected daily within 24 hours of the start of precipitation.  All MDN samples are sent to the Mercury Analytical Laboratory (HAL), which analyzes all forms of mercury in a single measurement and reports this as total mercury concentrations.  They also operate stations to catch and measure litterfall.  The litterfall monitoring initiative offers a way for a NADP site sponsor to get measurements to approximate a large part of the mercury dry deposition in a forest landscape. These samples are analyzed for the presence and concentration of mercury and methylmercury.

We heard from EPA R7 staff on additional monitoring methods, one of which is the Regional Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program.  Many of the Region 7 Tribes use data from fish tissue samples to determine the mercury content in their local waterways.  This is valuable information not only from an environmentally conscious standpoint, but this data also allows them to determine whether or not fish consumption advisories need to be in effect.

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Stan Holder of EPA Region 7 discussing the RAFT program

As part of the symposium, Tej Atili from the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas Environmental Department hosted a fish tissue sampling demonstration.  Literally hands-on, this demo allowed attendees to go through the process of clearing a small area in the dorsal area of scales, extracting samples using an 8 millimeter biopsy punch, and inserting the sample into a sterile scintillation vial.   While our tissue donor was of the frozen fillet variety, Tej walked us through what the “live” process entails and the importance of following proper procedures and protocol in sampling.  He also sprung a surprise math lesson on us; how to calculate the appropriate daily consumption rate of fish based on body weight.  While my calculations were all wrong (math is NOT a strong suit of mine), the equation that goes into it is actually quite interesting.  If I’m ever in a bind and need to know how much tuna I can eat though, I’m going to need some help; surely there’s an app for that!

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Tej Atili of the Kickapoo of Kansas demonstrating how to obtain a fish biopsy

Spending a day at my alma mater learning about mercury and sampling methods was a blast, and based on the turnout and positive feedback on this symposium, I hope they continue to hold it in the future, and maybe expand it.  In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about mercury monitoring and effects,  you can let your fingers do the walking and head over to EPA’s Mercury Page.  Also see NADP’s Mercury Deposition Network Page.   Until next time, I bid you adieu and wish you better fish-consumption calculation skills than I possess.  Seriously though, there’s gotta be an app for that!

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

 

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.

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Mercury Rising (Bruce Willis Not Included)

By Amber Tucker

On September 12th, staff from EPA visited Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, not in an attempt to crack a top secret code (see “Mercury Rising” on IMDB), but rather to convene in an effort to learn about another kind of rising mercury. Hosted by Haskell, with support from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), US EPA Region 7, and the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the “Mercury in the Environment” Symposium served as a gathering of minds from Tribal, Federal, and undergrad Haskell students, all ready to learn and discuss the effects of mercurial deposition and monitoring in our environment.  Over the next two blog posts I hope to share with you information about mercury in the environment, and how EPA and Tribal Nations in the Region are studying its presence in the environment

Mercury is a naturally occurring element (Hg on the periodic table) that is found in air, water and soil. It is an element in the earth’s crust, which humans cannot create or destroy. Contrary to what some Queen fans may tell you, “Freddie” is not an officially-recognized form of mercury. Pure mercury is a liquid metal, sometimes referred to as quicksilver that volatizes readily. It has traditionally been used to make products like thermometers, switches, and some light bulbs. It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds. Elemental or metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal and is liquid at room temperature. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.

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Many of us might recall mercury being in thermometers, some older generations may even recall taking those little balls of that silver stuff out of said thermometers and playing with those mystical little balls of silver that weren’t quite liquid but not quite a solid either. My dad recalled rolling it around in his hands and watching it disappear. With the knowledge we have today, it goes without saying that that’s a really bad idea.
Mercury is found in many rocks, including coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 50 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions (Source: 2005 National Emissions Inventory). EPA has estimated that about one quarter of U.S. emissions from coal-burning power plants are deposited within the contiguous U.S. and the remainder enters the global cycle. Burning hazardous wastes, producing chlorine, breaking mercury products, and spilling mercury, as well as the improper treatment and disposal of products or wastes containing mercury, can also release it into the environment. Current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the U.S. comes from U.S. sources.

mercurymap
Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others. The levels of methylmercury in fish and shellfish depend on what they eat, how long they live and how high they are in the food chain. Birds and mammals that eat fish are more exposed to mercury than other animals in water ecosystems. Similarly, predators that eat fish-eating animals may be highly exposed. At high levels of exposure, methylmercury’s harmful effects on these animals include death, reduced reproduction, slower growth and development, and abnormal behavior.

Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. Research shows that most people’s fish consumption does not cause a health concern. However, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn. Methylmercury is a deceptive little bugger when it comes to cell recognition; it’s completely absorbed in the human GI tract, where its half life in the blood stream is 50 days.  Its chemical structure is very similar to that of the essential amino acid methianine, which allows it to sneak past the bouncers at the front door of our cells, but when it gets in the door and incorporates into proteins, it wreaks havoc and results in abnormal cellular structure and function; a case of mistaken identity that wreaks havoc on those with developing systems.  For additional info on the health effects of mercury, click here.

EPA works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and with states and tribes to issue advice to women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and parents of young children about how often they should eat certain types of commercially-caught fish and shellfish. Fish advisories are also issued for men, women, and children of all ages when appropriate. In addition, EPA releases an annual summary of information on locally-issued fish advisories and safe-eating guidelines to the public. Fish is a beneficial part of the diet, so EPA & FDA encourage people to continue to eat fish that are low in methylmercury. For more information, please click here .

In my next blog post, I will discuss what was covered in the Symposium and how we can see the Mercury Fall, not just as temperatures cool as we enter Autumn, but as we move forward as partners.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

 

 

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.

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A Bike-Friendly EPA Headquarters

By Ed Fendley

It’s awesome to be part of an agency that’s helped clean America’s air and water and is working to reduce emissions of deadly mercury. Now I’ve got a new – and local – reason to appreciate the EPA: outdoor bicycle racks here at our headquarters buildings.

Recently, four sets of modern bike racks were installed outside at the Federal Triangle campus in Washington, D.C., as part of a broader EPA plan to welcome bicycling by employees and visitors. (We already have bike parking in our basement garages.)

Giving people choices in how to get around is a great thing. Studies show that if people can conveniently walk, bike, or take transit, many of them will choose to drive less – reducing traffic and cleaning the air.

And that fits neatly into our mission at EPA. According to EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009 (April 2011), roughly 17 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from passenger vehicles. Investing in public transit and other transportation options, like biking, make it easier for people to drive less, lowering greenhouse gas emissions. These approaches can also help reduce carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants emitted by motor vehicles.

As EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld recently wrote, there are lots of good reasons to ride a bike – including pure joy. I can relate: my kids and I ride a lot. They bike to school and we often tool around on the weekends together. I’ve also ridden to work for 20 years now. It’s exciting to see that bicycling rates are increasing rapidly across the country.

Building design is part of that. Convenient bike parking, as well as showers and lockers, get more people riding. Placing racks within 50 feet of building entrances is recommended as it helps visitors who may not have access to the parking garage. It also helps employees like me who bike during the day to meetings around town.

As more employees and visitors choose to ride, EPA will need to make further improvements. But for the moment, I’ll pause to celebrate as I park my bike and stroll into my office.

About the author: Ed Fendley is a senior policy analyst with the Office of Sustainable Communities.

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.

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