How deregulation of mercury could harm health

A recent Trump administration decision to ease mercury regulations for oil- and coal-fired plants will significantly harm public health, according to Elsie Sunderland.

Sunderland, professor of environmental science and engineering in the Department of Environmental Health, spoke about the dangers of mercury in an April 23, 2020 Q&A featured on the website of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), where she is a professor of environmental chemistry.

Mercury emitted from power plants is deposited to terrestrial ecosystems and the ocean, where some of it is converted to methylmercury, which then bioaccumulates in fish, other organisms, and humans, Sunderland explained. “Methylmercury has been associated with impaired cardiovascular health, long-term developmental delays, affects reproductive success, and is a suspected endocrine disruptor,” she said. “Not a single person thinks more methylmercury in the environment would be positive.”

She said that the Environmental Protection Agency’s justifications for weakening mercury regulations were based on “flawed and incomplete estimates of the benefits of reducing mercury.” She added that the Trump administration’s decision to weaken the regulations “shows a blatant disregard for science and expert advice.”

Read the SEAS Q&A: What the EPA’s mercury decision means for public health

Learn more

Weakened mercury controls could lead to health harms (Harvard Chan School news)