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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Pro-Life Group Argues for Mercury Limits

Published: August 11, 2012


By Ingrid Lobet


A large coal-fired power plant. (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Thewritingzone)

A new alliance with pro-life voters could strengthen the children's environmental health movement.

By Ingrid Lobet

In what could become a powerful new constituency for children’s health issues, an evangelical group is arguing that power plant mercury emissions are a pro-life issue. The Evangelical Environmental Network is launching television spots in eight states, urging pro-life Senators to “to defend the EPA’s ability to protect the unborn from mercury pollution.” The call comes in the voice of evangelical Pastor Tracey Bianchi and shows images of her playing with her young daughter, then others of a developing fetus.

Potentially neurotoxic levels of mercury are found in approximately one out of every six babies born in the United States. The poison lowers IQ and causes learning disabilities. Mercury passes uninhibited through the umbilical cord and placenta from mother to baby in utero.

Pediatrician and epidemiologist Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine has been working with the Christian group. On its website he gives a 42-minute briefing on mercury. “We now know approximately one in every six babies in this country is born with a mercury level that is high enough to cause some erosion of IQ and other brain abnormalities. “

The effect, Landrigan says, is that “as she or he goes through their whole life, they will be operating with somewhat less than the endowment that God originally gave to this child.”

Most of the mercury Americans ingest comes from coal-fired power plants directly or indirectly. The direct route is of greater concern for people who live near the plants. The indirect route sees mercury rain from stack emissions into waterways or the ocean where it is taken up as methylmercury by plankton and then fish that people consume.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered by a federal court to set limits on power plant emissions of mercury and other air toxic substances by Friday.

Typically electrical utility companies have found defenders in members of Congress who represent Republican-leaning states. An alliance of evangelical Christians or pro-life voters with those concerned about environmental health could turn the politics of pollution and chemical reform on its head.

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