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Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Healthier Americans

Photo of a group of childrenContinuing to improve our air quality with the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards means the difference between being sick and being healthy - in some cases, life and death - for hundreds of thousands of people. These new standards will avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

  • The value of the air quality improvements for people's health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, Americans get $3-9 in health benefits.
  • The benefits are widely distributed and are especially important to minority and low income populations who are disproportionately impacted by asthma and other debilitating health conditions.
  • Up to 540,000 missed work or "sick" days will be avoided each year, enhancing productivity and lowering health care costs for American families.
Estimated Annual Number of Adverse Health Effects Avoided Due to Implementing the MATS
Health Effect Cases Avoided
Premature death 4,200-11,000
Chronic bronchitis 2,800
Heart attacks 4,700
Asthma attacks 130,000
Hospital and emergency room visits 5,700
Restricted activity days 3,200,000

Health Impacts of Power Plant Emissions

Photo of a child fishing.Toxic air pollutants from fossil fuel-fired power plants cause serious health impacts.  These facilities are the largest source of mercury emissions to the air.  Once mercury from the air reaches water, microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish. People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies, and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system. This damage can impair children’s ability to think and learn.

Other toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium and nickel can cause cancer.  Acid gases cause lung damage and contribute to asthma, bronchitis and other chronic respiratory disease, especially in children and the elderly.

Reducing toxic power plant emissions will also cut fine particle pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma attacks.

Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute our nation's lakes, streams, and fish.