Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Part II: Air Pollution Victims

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called air pollution victims “unidentified and imaginary” (Browning).  In reality, air pollution victims are quite real.

Coal combustion in the nation releases approximately 48 tons of mercury each year.  Mercury is a neurotoxin causing mental retardation and lost productivity (in terms of IQ decline).  According to Trasande et. al, direct costs of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants is estimated at $361.2 million from mental retardation and $1.625 billion from lost productivity (Epstein 87).  One study estimates that for each part per million of mercury found in a mother’s hair, her child loses approximately 0.18 IQ points (Hudson).  Methylmercury, mercury’s most toxic form, is bioaccumulated in fin and shell-fish and then consumed by humans.  Methylmercury, either through diet or in utero through maternal consumption, is associated with neurological effects in infants and children.  These effects being delayed achievement of developmental milestones and poor results on neurobehavorial tests like, attention, fine motor function, language, visual-spatial abilities, and memory (Epstein 87).

Air pollution victims have been identified most often as communities of low income and/or color, therefore causing MATS regulations to encompass environmental justice and environmental racism.  Environmental justice has been defined as “the right of all people to share equally in the benefits bestowed by a healthy environment,” environment being where people “live, work, play and worship.”  There is a disproportionate incidence of environmental contamination in communities of low income and/or color.  Environmental justice movements look to correct this occurrence and secure the right for all people to live unthreatened by risks posed from environmental degradation and contamination.  Environmental justice perfectly depicts the intersection between ecological and social justice concerns.  When speaking specifically related to race, environmental racism applies.  Reverend Benjamin Chavis, past Executive Director of United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ) coined the term “environmental racism” and defined it as “ racial discrimination in the environmental policy-making and the enforcement regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and history of excluding people of color from leadership in the environmental movement” (Adamson, et al.).

Mercury and other air pollutants affect African American populations at an overwhelmingly higher rate than white populations.  In 2008, African Americans had a 35% rate of asthma than Caucasians.  One-quarter of the children in New York City’s Harlem have asthma. African American children have a 260% higher emergency room visit rate, 250% higher hospitalization rate and 500% higher death rate from asthma, compared with white children.  The most logical rational for the air pollution assault on Black communities is tied to where they live.  Sixty-eight percent of African-Americans (compared to 56% of whites) live within 30 miles (distance of maximum adverse effects from smokestack emissions) of a coal-fired power plant (Browning).

No matter the race, mothers and mothers-to-be across the nation are joining forces to ensure that their children are not air pollution victims.  Mothers and women of “childbearing age” are focused on a clean environment because it directly impacts the health of their children.  Mothers are a force to be reckoned with in the environmental arena.  Big Industry will respond to mothers on toxic chemical exposure because it has to (Jenkins).  Through the use of social media and emerging information technologies, large coalitions of concerned mothers are forming and taking a stand for the environment.  The blog Hip Moms Go Green is “the hip moms guide to living and eating green” (  These hip moms are “dedicated to empowering you to simultaneously affect a healthful difference in the lives of your children and planet.”  The website boasts of green home improvement tips, creative ways to get children involved in environmental and social responsibility, and incorporating nutrient-dense foods into any family’s diet.  Hip Moms Go Green “bring all of your favorite eco-topics and products to the table to make going green part of your everyday life.”


“Going Green – The Hip Moms Guide to Living and Eating Green by Hip Moms Go Green.” Going Green – The Hip Moms Guide to Living and Eating Green by Hip Moms Go Green. Web. 15 May 2012. <;.

Jenkins, McKay. What’s Gotten into Us?: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.

Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei. Evans, and Rachel Stein. The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics & Pedagogy. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, 2002. Print.

Browning, Dominique. “The Racial Politics of Asthma.” 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 May 2012. <;.

Epstein, Paul R., Jonathan J. Buonocore, Kevin Eckerle, Michael Hendryx, Benjamin M. Stout III, Richard Heinberg, Richard W. Clapp, Beverly May, Nancy L. Reinhart, Melissa M. Ahern, Samir K. Doshi, and Leslie Glustrom. “Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1219.1 (2011): 73-98. Print.

Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei. Evans, and Rachel Stein. The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics & Pedagogy. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, 2002. Print.

4 replies on “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Part II: Air Pollution Victims”

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