The EPA recently issued the first national standards for mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide from power plants. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards aim to slash emissions of these pollutants by relying on widely available and proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

The EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also help prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

The new standards are welcomed by a number of organizations, including the American Lung Association.

“Since toxic air pollution from power plants can make people sick and cut lives short, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a huge victory for public health,” said Albert A. Rizzo, MD, national volunteer chair of the American Lung Association, and pulmonary and critical care physician in Newark, Del. “The Lung Association expects all oil and coal-fired power plants to act now to protect all Americans, especially our children, from the health risks imposed by these dangers air pollutants.”

Bill McLin, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) also welcomed adoption of the new standards rule, pointing out that while critics may cite adverse economic impacts of tighter standards, such standards will go a long way to addressing the economic burden of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

“The economic burden of asthma and other respiratory diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases are borne by taxpayers via Medicare and Medicaid, and are being borne by corporations who employ these Americans, pay the costs of health insurance for them and their children, and lose productivity when they are sick or caring for their chronically ill loved ones,” added McLin. “AAFA believes that this EPA action is the right step to help keep Americans with asthma safe and healthy.”

The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually.

Source: EPA; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America