Meanwhile, Chinese coal-fired power generation and its attendant pollution are “going to come at us like a freight train coming down the tunnel,” he adds. “And at the end of the day, we’re going to have more and more pollution because of the lack of international leadership and follow-through. The Bush administration has that blood on its hands.”
Bender worries about the long-term public-health consequences of mercury pollution. “If it continues unabated, we’ll see more developmental delays in babies born every year,” he says. “It’s nothing less than the dumbing down of the population.” The accumulated strain on social services could be staggering: One study out of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York last spring estimated the national cost of fetal mercury poisoning, measured in loss of productivity, at $8.7 billion annually.
Lacking federal leadership, states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut have passed their own mercury rules, and California has joined 13 states in a lawsuit demanding that the Bush administration support steeper mercury regulations. Another lawsuit has been brought by a coalition of environmental and public-health groups. “They’re going to win,” says Harrell. “But it’s going to take a decade. And in that time, how many more tons of mercury are going to come into the environment?”
For $25, you, too, can find out if you should give up tunafish sandwiches: To order a testing kit, visit https://secureusa.greenpeace.org/mercury. And for a guide to safe sushi, see www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/sushi.asp.