ANA President Speaks on Opposition to EPA's Proposed Mercury Rule (3/16)

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Statement of Barbara Blakeney, MS, APRN,BC, ANP
President, American Nurses Association
March 16, 2004
National Press Club
Physicians for Social Responsibility Event Announcing
Opposition to EPA's Proposed Mercury Rule


I am here today on behalf of the 2.7 million registered nurses in the United States. Nurses represent the largest number of frontline health care providers in the country.

The nursing profession has daily contact with women, children, and families who are affected by mercury in our environment. We are the nurse midwives, nurse practitioners and obstetric nurses talking with expectant mothers about good nutrition and how to protect themselves from environmental threats so they can have healthy babies. We are also the school nurses seeing more and more children with learning disabilities. As caregivers, we are concerned that our communities cannot afford more mercury pollution in our air, water, and food.

Children, infants, and women of child-bearing age are particularly vulnerable to mercury exposure. There is extensive scientific evidence that mercury threatens the development of the fetal brain. Children who have been exposed to excess methylmercury in the womb are more likely to perform poorly on tests of attention, language, auditory processing and memory - leading to difficulties in school. In the year 2000, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that more than 60,000 children born each year may suffer from learning disabilities resulting from mercury exposure before birth.

The good news is that mercury pollution can be prevented. The health care industry already knows this. Just a decade ago, hospital waste incinerators were a top source of mercury emissions to the environment. But now, thanks to strict federal regulations, these facilities have reduced their mercury emissions by more than 90 percent. In addition, many hospitals have phased out mercury-containing devices like thermometers and blood-pressure cuffs (sphygmomanometers). We must expect no less from the electric utility industry.

We call for immediate actions to significantly reduce mercury emissions from power plants and other sources, and improving federal fish consumption guidelines to reduce exposures. In particular, we urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to abandon its new mercury proposal that favors industry and threatens the health of our nation. We urge the EPA to maintain - and not weaken - the existing standards under the Clean Air Act, which, if left alone, will achieve at least a 90 percent reduction in mercury air emissions from coal-fired electric utilities by 2008.

ANA Media Contact: 301 628-5038

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The American Nurses Association is the only full-service professional organization representing the nation's 2.7 million registered nurses (RNs) through its 54 constituent member associations. The ANA advances the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Congress and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.