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EPA Proposes Tougher Air Pollution Rules for Power Plants

WEDNESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Newly proposed national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from power plants could prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed standards, released Wednesday by the EPA in response to a court deadline, could also prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year; avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions annually; and lead to 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to health problems.

Under the proposal, many power plants would be required to install proven pollution control technologies to reduce harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, the EPA said.

Public health advocacy groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, back the proposed standards. "EPA is addressing the most toxic contaminants that imperil the health of our most precious resource, America's children," said EDF president Fred Krupp, in a news release from the environmental organization. "Our nation's commitment to cleaner air means healthier lives, safer communities and a stronger economy."

Research has shown that toxic pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants can cause neurological damage, including lower IQ in children exposed to the pollutants while in the womb and during early development. Emissions from power plants have also been linked to cancer, heart disease, asthma, premature death and work days lost to illness.

"The American Lung Association applauds the release of this sensible public health measure," Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in an EPA news release. "When it becomes final, the cleanup rule that the EPA is putting forward today will save lives, protect the health of millions of Americans and finally bring about an action that is 20 years overdue. This must happen."

Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, the EPA was required to control toxic air pollutants, including mercury, but the agency failed to take action on power plant standards. In response to a February 2008 court ruling, the EPA entered into a consent decree that required proposed national standards for power plants to be signed by March 16, 2011, with a final rule required by November 2011.

The EPA will hold public hearings on the proposed standards.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about air quality.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, news release, March 16, 2011

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