Michigan Scientists Urge Congress to Support Clean Air

For Immediate Release

April 5, 2012



Michigan Scientists Urge Congress to Support Clean Air

117 college scientists, researchers back E.P.A.’s mercury rule


ANN ARBOR – University and college scientists and researchers have signed a letter calling on Michigan’s congressional delegation to support the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) recently filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The scientists and researchers, 117 in total, represent a broad range of academic backgrounds and work at private and public colleges across Michigan.

“Humans and wildlife that eat fish can be exposed to hazardous levels of methyl mercury. Because residents of Michigan and the rest of the country are exposed to this pollutant, there needs to be a federal control on the emissions of mercury,” said Joel Blum, John D MacArthur Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan.

The future of Michigan’s own mercury emissions rule is unclear because a state advisory committee recommended rescinding it once a federal rule is filed. The scientists support the Michigan rule, but know it doesn’t go far enough to protect the health and well-being of residents.

“As part of a team of researchers, I have found mercury remains a major pollutant of concern in the Great Lakes,” said Nil Basu, Assistant Professor in U-M’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health. “All of us have detectable levels of mercury in our body.”

Much of the mercury deposited in Michigan comes from coal-fired power plants in other states, which is why a federal standard is even more crucial to protecting the public health of Michigan families. For every

$1 spent on reducing toxic emissions by upgrading power plants, the EPA estimates there is $6 to $9 in economic benefits, mostly related to lowered health care costs.

“State fish advisories like Michigan’s promote a policy that allows significant mercury contamination to remain in place while relying on the vulnerable populations to change their fish-consumption behavior,”

said Jerome Nriagu, Professor in U-M’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health. “The regulators are helping to perpetuate an unequal burden of mercury exposure in communities of the Great Lakes.”

Altogether, signers included nearly 60 scientists and researchers from the University of Michigan and more than a dozen from Michigan State University. Signers also included scientists and researchers from Wayne State University, Hope College, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Eastern Michigan University, Calvin College, Michigan Technological University, Grand Valley State University, and Ferris State University.

Blum, Basu and Nriagu participated in a statewide telephone news conference Thursday discussing the letter, along with Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The letter was delivered this week to Michigan’s two U.S. Senators and 15 U.S. Representatives. The letter is below.


Our Letter to Michigan’s Congressional Delegation Dear Michigan Senators and Representatives:

As university and college scientists and educators living and working in the great state of Michigan, we commend the standards adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposing limits on mercury emissions and other hazardous air toxics. The federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) will help protect and clean the air we breathe, assure that local fish are safer to eat, and protect and preserve the wildlife and natural spaces we love from harmful pollution originating in Michigan and elsewhere. Scientific studies clearly demonstrate that mercury and other air toxic emissions are hazardous to human health. We are concerned that some Members of Congress are seeking to overturn, weaken or delay these vitally needed standards.  We urge you to vote against any action diminishing the U.S. EPA’s MATS.

Mercury and other air toxics covered by MATS are potent neurotoxins that impact the health of humans, wildlife and ecosystems (e.g. services, provisioning, etc.). Our children are most vulnerable to these impacts, with fetal exposures to mercury resulting in deleterious impacts to language, memory, visual-motor skills, and attention. In adults, exposure to mercury can damage the nervous system, with newer research showing possible impacts on the immune and cardiovascular systems. Most of mercury’s harms to human health come from consuming contaminated fish. Once deposited on the surface waters of our state, mercury is converted to methylmercury where it is consumed and biomagnified up the food chain.

Ecologically-relevant and sub-lethal concentrations of methylmercury can affect the growth, survival and reproduction of fish, birds, and other animals. Large predatory fish, particularly those found in Michigan’s inland waters such as walleye, northern pike and largemouth bass, are most vulnerable to these effects. Recreational anglers and their families, including tribal groups and others consuming these fish, can accumulate harmful amounts of methylmercury. There is also increasing and compelling evidence that mercury deposition can impact the terrestrial ecosystem, namely songbirds, bats, and other insectivores.

Michiganders have long understood the harms to public health caused by mercury and other air toxics. Reflecting the findings of scientists, the Michigan state government has taken some helpful actions. The Michigan Department of Community Health, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Department of Natural Resources have collaborated in issuing statewide fish advisories for every lake in Michigan.

Moreover, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality adopted rules going into effect in 2015 to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in our state.  We commend the state’s actions and urge the Michigan Congressional Delegation to understand the need for federal standards to reduce mercury and air toxics pollution from power plants nationwide.

These efforts in our state fall short of addressing sources of mercury and other air toxics from other states that also harm Michigan’s people and animals. Most (greater than 50%) of the mercury deposited in our state comes from coal-fired power plant emissions, with a substantial amount coming from coal-fired power plants in other states. The U.S.

EPA’s MATS provides an important path to protecting the air and water in our state by limiting the emissions from these coal-fired power plants in Michigan and beyond. Also, the federal standards address a wider range of toxic emissions and facilities in Michigan than the state standards. The U.S. EPA estimates that annually MATS will prevent hundreds of deaths in our state and result in over one billion dollars of health benefits to Michiganders.

We, Michigan university and college scientists, urge you to support U.S.

EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in the interests of improving public health, protecting wildlife, preserving natural beauty, and supporting the economy of the state we call home.


 Joel Blum, Professor- UM Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Nil Basu, Assistant Professor- UM School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences

Timothy Dvonch,  Assistant Professor- UM School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences

Howard Hu, Professor – UM School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health, Epidemiology and Internal Medicine

Jerome Nriagu, Professor- UM School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences


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