Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Human Fetuses At Risk? More Disturbing Evidence of Coal Burning Threat

The other day, as I was reading The Emergence of Everything (a great book), I jotted down some notes after having a revelation in regards to amphibians, water, pollution, and disappearing frogs.
frogs and amphibians are dying out possibly because of increasing water pollution, and the pollutive chemicals impact on amphibian embryos (which develop in water), since this is the most vulnerable period as we've seen even with humans. theories related to increased ozone radiation being the cause of killing amphibians may not make as much sense, and the failure to reproduce and/or for the embryos to survive and propagate may be the most reasonable...

That is a verbatim transcription of my spur-of-the-moment notes while reading about the evolution from fish to amphibians, and, with this latest press release by the Earth Policy Institute, really has me wondering if instead of a color-coded system for terror threats we need one for ecological threats.

Startling new research shows that one out of every six women of childbearing age in the United States may have blood mercury concentrations high enough to damage a developing fetus. This means that 630,000 of the 4 million babies born in the country each year are at risk of neurological damage because of exposure to dangerous mercury levels in the womb.

Fetuses, infants, and young children are most at risk for mercury damage to their nervous systems. New studies show that mercury exposure may also damage cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems. Chronic low-level exposure prenatally or in the early years of life can delay development and hamper performance in tests of attention, fine motor skills, language, visual spatial skills, and verbal memory. At high concentrations, mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and even death.

Humans are exposed to mercury primarily by eating contaminated fish. Forty-five of the 50 states have issued consumption advisories limiting the eating of fish caught locally because of their high mercury content. New analyses of fish samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 500 lakes and reservoirs across the country found mercury in every single sample. In 55 percent of them, mercury levels exceeded the EPA’s “safe” limit for a woman of average weight eating fish twice a week, and 76 percent exceeded limits for children under the age of three. Four out of five predator fish—those higher on the food chain, such as tuna or swordfish—exceeded the limits.

Accuse me of being alarmist, but if we do not stand up for our own children, for our own progeny, let alone all children around the globe, then we have no right to call anyone evil, to declare ourselves good, or to smugly glow in saving civilization and our magnificent achievements and progress.

Be sure to check out the whole update from the Earth Policy Institute, but, if you're short on time, suggestions for action boil down to this:

Using coal, a hazardous nineteenth-century fuel, when we have twenty-first-century alternatives is hard to understand. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, do not require dangerous mining or mountaintop removal, nor do they pollute the air, land, and water with a slew of toxic chemicals. Full-cost pricing of coal to include the environmental damages and the enormous health care burden of using it, combined with removing antiquated subsidies on all fossil fuels, could go a long way toward encouraging more investment in renewables.

In addition, simple energy efficiency measures can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and save money, too. Research from the Alliance to Save Energy indicates that improving efficiency standards for household appliances in the United States could allow 127 power plants to close. More stringent air conditioner efficiency standards could shut down 93 power plants. And raising the efficiency standards of both new and existing buildings through mechanisms like tax credits and energy codes could close 380 power plants. Using these methods to shut down the 600 most polluting coal-fired power plants in the country would be a boon for public health.

Several European countries have begun to lead the transition away from coal. (See data at www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update42_data.htm.) In Germany, coal use has been cut in half since 1990, while expanding wind electric generation is taking its place. Coal use in the United Kingdom has dropped by 46 percent over the same period, offset by efficiency gains and a shift toward natural gas. Plans are moving ahead for a huge expansion in wind energy in the U.K. and other European countries.

By moving beyond coal, the United States could avoid a legacy of smog-filled skies, acid rain, polluted waterways, contaminated fish, and scarred landscapes. This could each year save some 25,000 lives, reduce respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, avert potential neurological damage for 630,000 babies, and erase a health care bill of over $160 billion.