WASHINGTON – As Children's Health Month ends,several public health organizations said Thursday that a Bush administration proposal would harm children,not help them.
The groups said the Clear Skies Act doesn’t go far enough to reduce pollution from power plants.
“We are currently under an administration that says,‘No child left behind' for education,” said Barbara Sattler,director of the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “But on the same hand they are promoting an air policy that will leave all children behind.”
At a press conference sponsored by public health organizations,five specialists on pollution and children’s health said the Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration that October is Children’s Health Month rings hollow.
“What we've heard from both national and international officials is this proposal will harm children's health,” said Robert Musil,executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The Clear Skies Act of 2003 would require that power plants reduce levels of sulfur dioxide,mercury and nitrogen oxides by nearly 70 percent from levels recorded in 2000,said John Millet,an EPA spokesman.
Sen. James M. Inhofe,R-Okla.,proposed the Clear Skies Act in February at the president’s request.
A spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said the committee has held numerous hearings on pollutant emissions and is still debating the best way to reduce them. For that reason,the bill remains unchanged so far,he said.
A House bill also remains in committee.
Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury contamination.
The health experts said it would be better to seek alternate forms of energy,such as natural gas,that burn more cleanly. They acknowledged that such a change would be expensive.
Toxicologist George Lucier said power plant emissions have detrimental effect on children's health,some of it before they are born.
Mercury exposure can lead to a number of health problems,including mental retardation,seizures and hyperactivity and attention deficits,Lucier said.
“The developing fetus is 10 times more sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury than are adults,” said Lucier,a retired National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences program director.
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “8 percent of the women of childbearing age in the U.S. are exposed to methylmercury above the safe level.”
Lucier said the chemicals eventually reach rivers and then contaminate fish.
Millet said mercury emissions are a big concern for the EPA as well.
“The EPA has been working for a number of years to reduce mercury through all the possible ways of pollution,” he said. “There are numerous regulations across the medical field. There are solid and hazardous waste regulations to water quality regulations to clean air regulations. We're not done yet and we have a lot more to do.”
Dr. Benjamin Gitterman,a Washington pediatrician put his plea to the administration simply: “This really matters. … We have to prevent the problem,not only treat it.”