Effects of Mercury, PM2.5, and Donald Trump

Effects of Mercury, PM2.5, and Donald Trump

Is Trump Mercurial?

Could one who refuses to remove mercury vapor from coal burning be called Mercurial?

The above were three possible titles for this article.

Having read again about Trump and his EPA planning to remove smokestack capture requirements to capture mercury vapor from burning coal, I decided to learn more about the mental effects of mercury vapor.  Before I did that, the word Mercurial popped into my mind.  So I had to explore the connection between Trump and Mercurial.

We note that Donald J. Trump was born in Queens, to the East of New York City, in 1946, and downwind from Manhattan’s coal fired power plants.  It would be 24 years until the Clean Air Act started to clean up air pollution.

First to Mercurial, defined as: subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind.  Synonyms:  volatile, capricious, temperamental, excitable, fickle, changeable, unpredictable, variable, protean?, mutable, erratic, quicksilver, inconstant, inconsistent, unstable, unsteady, fluctuating, ever-changing, moody, flighty, wayward, whimsical, impulsive, “a mercurial temperament”.  As we say in the Trump era, “you just can’t make this stuff up”.  The other definition of Mercurial is:  of or containing the element mercury.

From the WHO:  “Generally, two groups are more sensitive to the effects of mercury.  Fetuses are most susceptible to developmental effects due to mercury.  Methylmercury exposure in the womb can result from of a mother’s consumption of fish and shellfish.  It can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system.  The primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development.  Therefore, cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills may be affected in children who were exposed to methylmercury as fetuses.”  Later, they state that this can also result from inhalation of mercury or methylmercury vapor. 

The Republican argument to abandoning Mercury smoke stack filtering is that the effects argued by the Obama administration for the health costs were related to also removing PM2.5 microscopic particles that can get through the lungs into the bloodstream, and shorten life.

The estimates for the costs of the health effects of the mercury vapor itself is much lower than the preventative costs.

However, removing the PM2.5 is important by itself.  Due to the clean air act of 1970, people in New York and Chicago are now living two years longer.  In Los Angeles, pollution was reduced 40%, and they are now living one year longer.  The act reduced American’s PM2.5 exposure by 60%, allowing the average American to live 1.5 years longer.  The average American now only has a 0.1 year shortening of life.  This is often very important in smaller towns and cities.

Since Trump lives in New York City, this may have increased his health by and lifespan two years.  (If Trump’s Navy doctor is right about his 200 year lifespan, this could amount to 6 years.)  Since Trump and part of his family now lives in Washington, D.C., their lifespan has been increased by 3 years from the Clean Air Act.

While methyl mercury is harmful, the mercury that was in vaccines was ethylmercury, called Thiomersal, which is rapidly processed and eliminated by the body, so it was not harmful.

The world adopted the UN Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013 to get rid of all anthropogenic emissions of Mercury, with 128 signatories.  It became effective on 16 August, 2017.

We know that many people are inherently opposed to mercury, and industries have responded.  The mercury thermometers have been replaced by digital ones.  CFL energy conserving lightbulbs, which I equipped my entire house with, have been replaced by LED ones.  People were depriving their children of vaccines based on a single fraudulent claim decades ago.

Clearly, we need to clear the air of mercury, as well as of PM2.5.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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