Skip to main content

Keep safeguards to end mercury poisoning

By Elle Macpherson, Special to CNN
June 20, 2012 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for most of the mercury contamination in the air and water
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for most of the mercury contamination in the air and water
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Elle Macpherson: Coal-fired power plants largest source of mercury pollution, a brain poison
  • Mercury tied to learning and developmental problems, asthma, lower IQs, she says
  • Macpherson: After decades, EPA set mercury and toxin emission standards
  • If Senate votes to kill limits, she says, water, air and kids will continue to be poisoned

Editor's note: Elle Macpherson has a career in fashion and business and is a global ambassador for (RED), Breast Cancer Care, UNICEF, Smile Foundation and Nacoa charities. She works with the Sierra Club on environmental issues.

(CNN) -- Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to have many different roles and responsibilities, serving as an international humanitarian ambassador, television host, model, actress and businesswoman. But the role that's most fulfilling -- and the one that is most important to me -- is "Mom."

First and foremost, as a parent, I welcomed the announcement that 92 mayors from across the United States have signed a letter supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's safeguards against mercury. This is a brilliant testimony to the mayors' understanding of the fundamental need for clean healthy air and water.

Although I do my best to be sure my two sons grow up healthy, strong, independent and responsible, I cannot control what is in the air they breathe. Right now, millions of kids across this country breathe in pollution pumped into the air by coal-fired power plants. This can impair a child's development and cause asthma attacks, the No. 1 reason kids miss school.

Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson

These plants are also the largest source of mercury, a potent brain poison that is linked to severe learning disabilities, developmental problems, and lower IQs.

In 2010, power plants emitted 66,050 pounds of toxin into the air. Mercury from coal-fired power plants rains down into our rivers, streams and oceans, where it can contaminate the fish we eat. Exposure to mercury is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children. Because fish is a dietary staple for my family, this is a huge personal concern, but every family deserves the right to eat safe, healthy fish without worrying about toxic mercury.

The good news is that last year, the Obama administration set historic mercury and air toxics standards to curb mercury pollution from new coal-fired power plants. These safeguards will cut mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90% and dramatically reduce our kids' exposure to mercury, as well as cancer-causing substances such as arsenic and chromium.

Unacceptably, however, these landmark protections are under attack in Congress. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to overturn the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

This shortsighted legislation goes so far that it would prevent the EPA from ever acting on this issue again.

It has taken decades to finally get clean-air protections from mercury in place. We can't let Congress overturn them. By cleaning up or retiring coal plants and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, we can protect our economy, create jobs and attain cleaner air for our families.

Clean energy solutions are ready to go, and we have only just begun tapping their potential. In Germany, 10% of all electricity last month was supplied by solar power, and Germany gets about the same amount of sunshine as Alaska . While here in the U.S., more than 20% of the energy being generated in the states of Iowa and South Dakota is already from wind. With the price of clean energy technologies coming down dramatically, this is the wrong time for our government to backtrack.

As a recognizable face and voice, I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to advocate for the health of women and children around the world, from Ukraine to Ghana. The United States is the last place I'd expect to see politicians roll back public-health protections that are already in place. That's why I'm working with the Sierra Club to raise awareness and encourage people to take action by contacting their senators and asking them to support keeping the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards intact.

Congress has the opportunity to be a part of the solution. It can protect our children's health and our air and water. There's no more important job than that.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Elle Macpherson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT