MERCURY: THE LATEST GREEN SCARE CAMPAIGN
By Alan Caruba
Let me show you how the Greens, assisted by journalists with an agenda, create such a campaign. In this case, the target is mercury, a common chemical which is widely used by various industries and is discharged as the result of producing energy to heat or cool one’s home, et cetera.
On Monday, December 6, 2002, an opinion editorial, ”Don’t Let Polluters Deny Danger of Mercury,” appeared in my local daily newspaper, the (Newark, NJ) Star-Ledger. The author was Jillian Waldman, identified as “a field associate for the New Jersey Public Information Research Group.” PIRG is a Ralph Nader organization that passes itself off as a consumer group. The opinion editorial referred to “prominent public health advocates” without naming them and accusing “a powerful industry coalition” of lobbying to insure the air remains filled with mercury and other pollutants.
Now watch the chain of “news” articles that followed in the Star-Ledger. On December 9, Alexander Lane, the newspaper’s designated reporter on environmental topics, had an article, “Air Pollution Blamed for Premature Deaths.” The same day, the newspaper carried an article by Tom Johnson and Kevin Coughlin, “Experts: Energy Firms Ignore Upgrades.”
Two days later, Lane was back with “New Rule Targets Mercury Emissions: State Seeks to Cut Pollutant by 75 Percent.” And the next day, December 12, the Star-Ledger ran an Associated Press article by Lauran Neergaard, “Panel Wants Greater Details in Warning on Mercury in Fish.” This was followed on December 16 with another AP article, “EPA Would Allow 15 Years for Reduction of Mercury: Power Plant Controls Less Stringent Than Those Proposed in Clinton Years.” Finally, on January 6, the Star-Ledger made the “issue” into a lead editorial, “Negligence on Mercury.” The editorial demands that the federal government do more to “reduce the dangers.” Do you see a pattern here?
What you don’t see or read is the truth about mercury in the atmosphere or in the food chain.
For example, none of these articles note the enormous cost of upgrades being demanded to reduce mercury emissions, nor the fact that utilities have, over the years, invested billions of dollars to comply with the Clean Air Act. To make those investments, the cost of the energy provided to consumers had to be increased. The issue these days is the cost-benefit ratio. At what point does the mandated investment yield a level of safety that is unnecessary? Okay, no one wants pollution in the air, but just when is the air “clean” enough? For Greens, there never is, “enough” even if there really is, as there is the case of mercury. There is no proof that anyone is actually endangered by the miniscule amount of mercury that is released into the atmosphere as a consequence of the operations of US utilities and industries.
The Star-Ledger editorial says it all, “But it [the federal government] is not doing enough [about the mercury pollution] from dirty power and other industrial plants.” The target is always the same, the demand is always the same, the complaint is always the same, and the facts on which it is based is almost always without scientific merit.
The amount of mercury pollution in question is about one percent of the total human contribution to the atmosphere. The U.S.A. is responsible, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for 3.6 percent of the world’s total, despite the fact that the U.S.A. represents about 25 percent of the world’s total economic activity. That means 97.4 percent comes from someplace else. Even so, not one of the articles reports that there is NO evidence that mercury emissions have killed a single person on the face of the earth. As Patrick J. Michaels, Virginia State Climatologist, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia and Senior fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute, succinctly says, “Where are the bodies? Where are the sick millions?”
For the record, there was one instance of mercury poisoning. It was Japan’s Minamata Bay where, since the 1930s, massive industrial dumping had occurred.
Back in March, 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency came out with a report, “America’s Children and the Environment.” One favorite way of scaring the hell out of everyone is to announce that our children are at risk. The EPA asserted that 8 percent of American women of childbearing age had a mercury concentration of 5.8 parts per billion in their blood. I repeat, per billion. To put it another way, 92 percent did not show any mercury concentration, even in the statistically low risk factor stated.
My friend, Steven Milloy, a Cato Institute adjunct scholar, recently tore into the current scaremongering by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Notice how the claims about mercury start with some self-appointed “consumer” or “environmental” group (often in tandem) migrate into the EPA, and then spread to other government agencies? In December, the FDA warned against mercury in seafood. Again, it was about the claim that trace amounts in an expectant mother’s blood was a hazard.
The FDA warned against eating swordfish, king mackerel. or tilefish “because they contain high levels of mercury.” Larger fish usually do, Milloy noted, but he also directed the reader to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (February, 2002) which was unable to find mercury-related health effects among a group of regular swordfish consumers.
Have you any idea how much swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish --indeed any fish -- you would have to eat to acquire enough mercury to pose a health threat? A lot! A whole lot! More than you’d normally eat in a year, maybe two or three years, or longer. The FDA is blowing smoke up your dress with their latest warning. Even by their own published standards, you can safely eat up to twelve ounces (two to three meals) of fish and shellfish every week. And, as Milloy points out, “The FDA’s 12 ounces per week is simply arbitrary.” It’s just government agency hocus-pocus!
Unable to dispute the Bush administration’s decision not to burden utilities and others with hugely costly requirements to reduce pollution (that represents no real health threat!), the Greens have simply conjured up a campaign about the “dangers” of mercury. And too many irresponsible members of the press went along with them, as they always do. You are not in any danger from mercury, but you are in danger, once again, of being stuck with the bill if this latest scare campaign were to succeed
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