By MATT MURPHY, Sun Staff
LOWELL -- With the Merrimack River glimmering in the background, Sen. John Kerry yesterday chided the Bush administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for weakening its stance against mercury pollution.
“You can't talk about a culture of life in one breath and turn around and poison our children with the next,” Kerry told a small crowd, including several environmental youth groups, on the riverfront behind the Tsongas Arena.
Kerry's remarks came during an event celebrating the 35th anniversary of Earth Day,
which featured several speakers addressing mercury contamination in the Merrimack Valley and the related health risks.
According to Merrimack River Watershed Council President Elizabeth Coughlin, the Department of Agriculture in a March 8 report identified the Merrimack Valley as one of nine “hot spots” in North America for mercury contamination in its waterways.
The pollution emanates from coal- and oil-fueled power plants locally and throughout the Midwest. Mercury falls into Massachusetts' rivers, lakes and streams when
it rains, poisoning wildlife and making fish unsafe to consume, particularly for pregnant women and children.
Dr. David Bellinger, of Children's Hospital in Boston, said high levels of mercury have been found to contribute to mental retardation and cerebral palsy in infants, create learning disabilities in young children, and affect the adult cardio-vascular system.
“The current approach is for people to limit their consumption of fish,” Bellinger said. “What we need is to stop mercury from getting into the fish so people can make choices based on what they like to eat.”
Kerry agreed, calling for a renewed effort to make choices that will help save the environment.
“It's a real problem in our country today that parents can't take their kids fishing and, if they're lucky enough to catch something, bring it home to eat,” Kerry said.
The senator criticized President Bush's environmental policies from logging to air- and water-quality standards, but singled out the EPA for issuing revised guidelines last month on mercury pollution.
new EPA rule walks away from the more stringent regulations set forth in a similar 2000 plan, by extending the time frame under which mercury pollution will be curtailed, Kerry said.
He also hammered the agency for lying to the American public, explaining that the EPA had disregarded a Harvard University study commissioned by the government that found great health benefits in stricter emission standards.
“We need to take this Earth Day and recommit to going into the community and reconnecting with these important issues,” Kerry said. “We need to make these voting issues again.”
Matt Murphy's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.