"As parents, protecting
our children is our first priority," said Mrs. Blagojevich. "The
tough new mercury standards proposed by my husband will
significantly reduce toxic mercury emissions and will help protect
our children and our environment. I encourage the Illinois Pollution
Control Board to work quickly to approve the mercury rule and send a
clear message to Illinois moms that our state will help provide a
healthy future for our children."
At the rally outside the James
R. Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop, speakers presented over 5,000
letters and postcards in favor of the governor's mercury rule to the
Illinois Pollution Control Board, where the measure is pending. One
of the messages was an oversized postcard made by children attending
the event. Mothers also brought in their old mercury thermometers
and got new, mercury-free thermometers from the Illinois EPA.
The Illinois Sierra Club, Illinois Public Interest Research
Group, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center were among the
groups present to raise awareness about the critical importance of
reducing mercury emissions to protect children, families and the
The governor's proposed mercury rule would require a 90 percent
reduction of mercury pollution from in-state, coal-fired power
plants by 2009. The 21 coal-fired power plants in Illinois are the
largest source of mercury emissions in the state, emitting over
7,000 pounds annually, which is more than from all other human
"I hope the Pollution Control Board will act swiftly to approve
the governor's mercury proposal to help make Illinois a national
leader in reducing mercury emissions from power plants," said Scott,
the Illinois EPA director. "People in Illinois are now more educated
than ever on the harmful health and environmental effects mercury
emissions have, and they expect results."
Mercury can cause serious health problems to the human nervous
system. Pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children
younger than 15 years of age are especially at risk. Developing
fetuses can be exposed to mercury when a mother eats tainted fish
and can suffer mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lower IQs, slow
motor functions, deafness, blindness and other health problems.
Recent studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of babies born
each year in the United States are exposed to excessive mercury
levels in the womb.
Mercury contamination is a nationwide problem. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule on
March 10, 2005, requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury
emissions 47 percent by 2010 and 79 percent by 2018. The governor's
mercury proposal came in response to a federal mercury rule that is
currently being implemented and is widely regarded as insufficient.
The proposed Illinois rules are significantly stronger,
requiring a 90 percent emissions reduction by June 30, 2009.
"Illinois is making real progress in eliminating this dangerous
toxin from our environment, but there is still a tremendous amount
of work to be done," said May, D-Highland Park, who introduced the
recently passed legislation making Illinois a national leader in
removing mercury from end-of-life vehicles. "Mercury is a potent
neurotoxin that causes brain damage in children, and the largest
source of mercury is from our coal-fired power plants, so what
better time than around Mother's Day to turn out in support of our
proposed mercury reduction rule."
Coal-burning power plants are the state's No. 1 source of toxic
mercury emissions. Mercury is released into the air when power
plants burn coal to produce electricity at power plants. The mercury
is then deposited into rivers and lakes, contaminating fish and
getting into the food chain.
Once mercury enters water, it becomes highly dangerous. Humans
get most of their mercury from eating fish -- and mercury
contaminates fish in every body of water in Illinois.
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The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a statewide
fish consumption advisory, warning pregnant women, nursing mothers
and young children to eat no more than one meal a week of predator
fish -- bass, walleye and northern pike, for example -- caught in
Illinois waters, due to high mercury concentrations.
"The American Heart Association tells us to eat fish twice a week
for the fatty acids, but Illinois families can't follow that advice
with local fish, because if they do, they'll likely exceed the U.S.
EPA safe dose of mercury," said Rebecca Stanfield, state director of
Environment Illinois, the new home of the Illinois Public Interest
Research Group's environmental work. "But studies suggest that if we
can reduce that power plant mercury pollution locally, we can expect
rapid decreases in fish mercury levels."
"If we are serious about reducing mercury, targeting mercury
pollution from coal plants is the obvious answer," said Howard
Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy
Center. "These plants cause over 70 percent of the problem
statewide, and we can clean them up for less than the price of a cup
of coffee per family per month."
Since coming into office, the governor has demonstrated his
continued commitment to reducing mercury in the environment:
On Earth Day,
April 22, the Blagojevich signed mercury switch legislation that
creates a statewide program for collecting and removing
mercury-containing switches from retired vehicles before they
are processed as scrap metal, so that the mercury is not emitted
into the environment. The new law requires automakers to create
mercury switch collection programs, offering storage containers
to auto recyclers and dismantlers and arranging for
transportation of the removed switches.
On May 1, the
Illinois EPA director announced a new initiative on behalf of
the governor to expand the collection and recycling of
climate-control thermostats that contain mercury switches.
Long-term household hazardous waste collection sites in both
Rockford and Naperville will collect and recycle mercury
thermostats through an industry take-back program. This will
provide two drop-off locations in northern Illinois for
homeowners or "do-it-yourselfers" who purchase replacement
Focusing on retail
products, three years ago the governor signed legislation that
ended the sale of mercury thermometers and novelty items. This
is another step to remove mercury from the waste stream and
replace those items with safer available alternatives. The
legislation supported previous legislation that further reduced
mercury-containing products that pose a potential health hazard
by prohibiting schools from purchasing mercury-containing
scientific equipment for use in classrooms.
The Illinois EPA
also continues to implement the governor's mercury initiative on
a variety of fronts, including collections of mercury items in
household hazardous waste collections, "green chemistry"
workshops and exchanges of mercury thermometers.
An air sampling
station in Northbrook, launched in 2000, is one of only two
continuous mercury-monitoring stations in the U.S. Using
advanced scientific techniques, mercury samples are also being
collected at several inland lakes and streams across the state.
[News release from the governor's