My daughter Hazel is five-years-old now and about to start kindergarten this fall. I've loved watching her become the smart, adventurous, and loving little girl she is today. She's a tough kid, but I know I'll worry about her even when she's all grown up. It's what moms do.
I think about Hazel and so many other moms today as the Sierra Club helps celebrate "Bump Day" with the United Nations Foundation, a day aimed at raising awareness about healthy pregnancies.
Unfortunately, I can easily see the connection between healthy pregnancies and my work with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. Burning coal releases toxic mercury in the air that then rains down into rivers and streams. This poison then accumulates in the food chain, eventually making its way into our bodies when we eat contaminated fish. When I was pregnant with Hazel, I did everything I could to ensure that my baby was healthy -- and that meant educating myself about which fish were known to be high in mercury so I could avoid the high-mercury fish, while continuing to enjoy those low in mercury.
Why? Because mercury is a dangerous poison that can damage the brain and nervous system. Mercury is of special concern to women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, since exposure to mercury in the womb can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, and delayed onset of walking and talking in babies and infants.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have estimated that as many as one in 10 women has mercury levels in her blood high enough to cause damage to a developing baby.
In fact, all 50 states currently issue mercury advisories warning anglers to limit or avoid eating the fish they catch, due to high mercury levels in some fish. As of 2010, almost 18 million lake acres and approximately 1.4 million river miles were covered by some type of fish consumption advisory.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S. The Obama Administration took at important step to rein in this pollution when the EPA put mercury standards in place for coal plants, but just last month a ruling from the Supreme Court sent the EPA's Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) back to the agency for further proceedings.
The MATS protections, which were finalized in 2012, require coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury by 90 percent and to strongly curtail the emissions of other toxic pollutants, like arsenic, and hydrochloric acid gas. A recent scientific study found that as mercury levels have been dropping in the air, as a result of our reduced use of coal, mercury levels in fish are dropping dramatically. We are pushing EPA to act quickly and make the changes to the standard required by the Supreme Court, so our mercury protections can stay in place and continue to deliver results for the health of our families.
But of course, major polluters like the coal industry continue to put profit before public health, and it comes at the price of healthy moms and healthy babies.
So this Bump Day, I pledge to keep fighting for clean air and water so pregnant moms everywhere have one less issue to worry about as they try to make sure their babies are healthy. We are counting on the EPA to ensure that the coal industry's progress in cleaning up its noxious pollution isn't stalled any further, so that countless young children across America can grow up safe and healthy, and our daughters aren't still facing this same threat when they become moms someday.
Learn more about the Sierra Club's Global Population and the Environment program.