Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up? Let’s call this the environmental health edition.

Is anyone else disturbed by Canada pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol? If you recall, it was a worldwide initiative — without the United States, of course — to combat global warming. Often I wonder what kind of world we are leaving our children.

The Environmental Integrity Project released a list of the top 25 most polluting power plants in the United States. It also broke it down by state and which toxins are emitted by plants in those states:

Pennsylvania (#1 rankings for arsenic and lead);
Ohio (#2 rankings for mercury and selenium);
Indiana (#4 rankings for chromium and nickel);
Kentucky  (#2 for arsenic); and
Texas (#1 rankings for mercury and selenium).

Some of the power plants, let by Southern Company, are fighting new Mercury and Air Toxics standards slated to kick in this week. First, they said that it would cost them jobs, even though smaller power plants have implemented filters for these toxins and support the new rules. Now they are saying that the new rules will cause blackouts. Two different utility CEOs wrote letters to the Wall Street Journal slapping down this argument, too.

Enough is enough. Please sign this petition to let President Obama know that you support the new Mercury and Air Toxics standards. MomsRising sent out a petition as well, highlighting the fact that arsenic is in our children’s juice boxes. This is important as this would be the first major piece of environmental legislation introduced since an update to the Clean Air Act 20 years ago to protect our children’s health and that of future generations. It is long overdue.  

Finally, I learned from Arlene Blum, a scientist and expert on flame retardants, that 10% of Fanta Orange, Mountain Dew and Fresca soft drinks are…you got it…brominated vegetable oils (BVOs), which were first developed as flame retardants. BVOs, by the way, are prohibited in soft drinks in Europe and in Japan. Ugh.

In NON-environmental news, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck are expecting their third child, according to MSN Wonderwall.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

 

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How Money Degrades Our Environment

I originally wrote this piece for the Broad Side. Definitely check it out! -Elisa

Protecting the Clean Air Act as well as the Environmental Protection Agency should be our No. 1 priority as parents. We can disagree on religion, politics and how we run our households, but as individuals we have no control over pollution, which is why our government needs to protect us from it.

But what happens when polluters and chemical companies contribute millions of dollars to the coffers of our leaders? That, amigos míos, is the No. 1 barrier for the EPA and all who support its agenda.

For some years, I have been an environmental activist, not only advocating for clean air and water, but fighting against the use of toxic chemicals in children’s products. A little over two years ago, I testified in Sacramento, California, in favor of a bill that would have ridded toxic flame retardants from four baby products that pose no fire hazards: strollers, high chairs, nursing pillows and changing pads. Unfortunately, this would be one of five bills to fail in the state legislature.

Now I know what I and fellow parents were up against. I just read in a California newspaper, the East Bay Express, that the chemical industry has spent at least $23.5 million over the last five years in lobbying efforts against these bills. In addition, at least $593,000 in campaign money was donated over three election cycles to 85 legislators, including 44 Democrats and 41 Republicans.

Here is more insightful information in the newspaper, which pointed out that flame retardants are toxic and building up in our bodies, including our breast milk and our children’s bodies:

A five-month investigation by Environmental Health News revealed an infusion of chemical industry cash into California that has global implications. During the five years of lobbying, the flame retardants have been building up in people’s bodies, including breast milk, around the world.

Designed to slow the spread of flames, brominated and chlorinated chemicals are added to upholstered household furniture and babies’ products sold throughout North America because California enforces a unique flammability standard. The chemical industry has been fighting to retain that state standard and ward off California proposals to ban the chemicals or mandate alternatives.

As I saw firsthand in Sacramento, the chemical industry claims that flame retardants save lives. As part of their lobbying efforts, they shamelessly brought out burn victims and small children who had lost family members in fires. The point lost on everyone in the room is that these deaths and injuries occurred with flame retardants in the foam of all of our furniture and children’s products!


Another reason that the chemical industry’s claims are misleading at best is this peer-reviewed study released this past June showing that that California’s furniture flammability standard, also known as Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), does not provide measurable fire safety benefits. TB117 practically mandates the use of toxic flame retardants in the foam of all of our furniture and even baby products like nursing pillows and changing pads.

However, one thing’s for sure: animal studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders. The flame retardants easily leach onto dust, pet hair, and the crumbling foam of old products — surely, I am not the only mom who used second-hand baby products! — making them easy to ingest by children.

A silver lining in all of this sludge of dirty air and dirty money is that the public is paying attention. I want to thank the East Bay Express for its expose on the amount of money the chemical industry has spent to pump up its dirty goods. But I also want to acknowledge the growing and influential movement that are the moms here at MotherTalkers, MomsRising, Moms Clean Air Force and The Broad Side. We are a group of moms who are not to be messed with!

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EPA Ruling Gets Huge Response. Thank You! Now What!?

I am reposting this from the Moms Clean Air Force blog as a thank you to all of you who have joined the Moms Clean Air Force, and also to keep you updated on the EPA’s proposed mercury rules. Thanks all! -Elisa

by Dominique Browning

In the last few months, Americans submitted more than 800,000 comments in support of a new Environmental Protection Agency ruling, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards–the first-ever national policy to curb dangerous mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

This is an unprecedented outpouring of support for cleaner air. I want to thank everyone who joined Moms Clean Air Force, you helped send a strong message to Washington.

Clearly, Americans want cleaner air. Parents are especially passionate about fighting air pollution–it hurts fetuses, babies and toddlers the most . Every pregnant–or about to be pregnant woman should read about mercury poisoning. Get angry–and get active. How dare polluters poison our babies?

Many responsible coal plant executives have already installed filters on their plants–it hasn’t hurt their profits or cost them jobs. But many polluters, and their lobbyists and political allies, are fighting these improvements. They are calling for repealing the Clean Air Act and gutting the EPA’s budget so that it cannot enforce any regulations.

Now what? Our work at Moms Clean Air Force is far from done. With the comment period closed, EPA considers the feedback, and responds to issues raised, often in the final version of the rule. The agency is required by the Courts to release the final rule by November 16, 2011. No one has to vote on the rule. Once it is published in the Federal Register, the clock starts ticking–emitters have three years from the date of publication to reduce their pollution.

Polluters will now be working overtime to figure out ways around the new ruling. They will lobby Congress to intervene to delay or alter it. Congress can pass laws that unravel air protection–laws that defund EPA, strike its right to set standards for these–or any other–pollutants, or EPA from spending money to implement rules; they could pass laws to weaken the emission standards, or extend polluters’ deadlines.

Ask everyone you know to join Moms Clean Air Force. Forward this post along via email. Naptime Activism! We make it easy to keep up the pressure on political representatives to support clean air–and we’ll continue to explain why, exactly, it is so important to clean up the air.

We have to protect our children’s health; no one else cares as much as we do. And thank you, again, with all my heart, for joining me in this mission.

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A Case Study: Parents CAN Fight Polluters

Cross-posted at the Moms Clean Air Force blog.


(Photo by Lily Dong: Parents in Cupertino, California, were instrumental in fighting a cement plant that emits mercury and other air pollution.)

CUPERTINO, Calif. — If there are two major lessons I have learned from writing for the Moms Clean Air Force it is that there is mercury in our air — blech! — and that we can’t assume that regulatory agencies are doing anything about it.

Oftentimes, these same agencies’ hands are tied by lawsuits and political agendas to further defund them, yet they are also blamed for not protecting us. However, some parents — like those of us at Moms Clean Air Force — have taken matters into our own hands.

The parents pictured above are examples of families who have chosen not to wear the blinders — at least not when their children’s health is at risk. Most recently, parents — and non-parents! — at the Bay Area for Clean Environment from the San Francisco Bay Area recently won a hard-fought victory to possibly keep a politically influential and polluting cement plant from gaining anymore government contracts.

“This is a huge milestone for the people who have been advocating regulatory agencies to hold a polluting cement plant accountable to the law,” local mom Hoi Yung Poon said.

Bay Area Clean Environment board member, father and grandfather, Richard Adler said this is the first political action he has ever taken aside from voting.

“When I moved here in 1999, I sort of knew that this plant was here,” Adler told me on my visit to Cupertino, which is in California’s tech hub, Silicon Valley. “I went on the assumption that this was a regulated business, which is true. But the people who regulate it were not doing their jobs. That’s the reason for this movement.”

Adler, like other members of the Bay Area Clean Environment, became informed of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company’s polluting ways when Earth Justice filed a lawsuit against cement plants in general in 2008. Cement plants are a major source of mercury emissions as they burn limestone that contain mercury. Mercury is a major neurotoxin that can damage the brain, kidneys and a developing fetus.


Mercury emissions are not to be taken lightly, which made Cupertino residents’ discovery all the more disturbing. They learned that not only did the mercury-emitting Lehigh plant receive notices of ordinance violations, but that the government did nothing about it and even rewarded the company with huge contracts like interstate highways.

“It’s like the police giving people speeding tickets, but not doing anything about it,” Adler said.

Adler said that Lehigh’s tactics were quite sinister. The company tried to deflect blame for air pollution by saying that it wasn’t its fault that limestone contained mercury. He also said that the company invested a lot of money in lobbying efforts to paint Adler’s group as a fringe, vocal minority. The experience taught him the importance of informing neighbors and gaining their support.  

It resulted in the community fighting back, collecting more than 25,000 signatures and holding meetings and rallies. Some residents, he said, just assumed that regulatory bodies were protecting them.

“Before (this issue), I voted and had done my duty,” Adler said. “In the last year I realized that it isn’t enough.”

The deadline to help curb mercury emissions on a national scale is TOMORROW. To quickly e-mail the EPA, click here.

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Returning To the Earth, My Catholic Roots

Cross-posted at the Moms Clean Air Force blog.

Throughout my 34-year-old life, I have had an up and down relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

As a kid, the church was instrumental in baptizing me, educating me — for nine years, I attended Catholic school largely tuition-free — and, along with my parents, giving me my moral outlook and strong work ethic. As a kid from a large family in a working class neighborhood in Miami, I was still expected to hand-deliver meals to the elderly woman across the street, feed the homeless in Overtown — a tough neighborhood — and volunteer in my parish, even during school hours. It’s something that has carried into my present life where despite a hectic schedule of children and work, I still find the time to deliver a meal to a person in need and volunteer my time for various causes.

Then there is the politics, which is complicated. No, I don’t like the way the church initially handled the sex abuse scandals, or the way it keeps women from becoming priests. For a while I stopped going to mass because I did not like the way Catholic parishioners would park themselves in front of the Planned Parenthood in Boston, which at the time is where I received all of my pap smears and subsidized birth control pills. (I was broke and uninsured.)

Yet, there is still so much that I agree with the church, including its stewardship of all life on earth. Ultimately, that’s what brought me with my two young children back to a wonderfully progressive Catholic Church in Oakland, California.

Most recently, the social justice committee at the church organized a letter-writing campaign to the EPA in support of proposed mercury and air toxics standards. I was heartened and overwhelmed by the response as parishioners swarmed our table to write personal letters to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on index cards. Here were some of my favorite letters:

Dear Ms. Jackson,

Please know that I stand with you in support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. As one who has children and expects to have grandchildren, I want to create a world that is beautiful, abundant and healthy for my own family as well as for the families of our world — since we are all really ONE family.

Yours truly….

To Administrator Jackson,

As a father of two young children in an urban environment, I am very concerned with the effects of airborne pollution on their development. Please consider the long term benefits of the passage of the Clean Air Toxic Mercury legislation. Thank you! Danny….

Dear Ms. Jackson,

As a physician, I fully support reductions in the level of airborne mercury. Sincerely, Brian….

Dear Ms. Jackson,

Thank you, thank you for proposing the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards! Most of us feel so powerless about emissions from plants. My son — a veteran — recently became ill, I believe triggered somewhat by nearby oil company emissions. The entire neighborhood feels dirty and unhealthy.

Often we see such emissions and cannot do anything. Judy, Oakland


I heard from several parishioners that they did not know that our air contained mercury. That was my reaction, too, before I joined the Moms Clean Air Force. I assumed that mercury was only in our oceans, which is equally disturbing!

Parishioners were also disappointed to hear that oftentimes plants will sue the EPA to keep it from doing its job. I was heartened that so many people were interested in this issue and acted on their concerns. It’s like this sleeping giant was woken!

Only one parishioner expressed doubt that this action would accomplish anything, and she did not fill out a postcard. I responded: “If the EPA only hears from the power plants, then nothing will be done.”

That said, I was also respectful of her opinion as this is her house of worship, too. No one should have to fill out a petition or write a letter they don’t feel comfortable with, which is why we gave our parishioners the docket number and information, and told them to write whatever they wanted.  

If you belong to a church, a mom’s group or any community organization, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of on-the-ground action to clean our air. I did not do this alone in my Catholic parish in Oakland. I told a social justice committee member who then printed out flyers and had index cards, pens, and copies of information by the EPA as well as the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference who endorsed the new clean air standards. Parishioners were able to read the material, ask questions and write letters, which were then mailed out by me. I just made sure that the parishioner’s mailing addresses were included as well as the EPA docket numbers for the proposed rules:

#EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044
#EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234

As with any institution or loved one, I am not always going to agree with all of the politics and positions of the Catholic Church. But this is one issue I can really get behind!

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Latinos and Mercury Poisoning and Other Maddening News

As a proud Cuban and Puerto Rican and lover of the great outdoors, I am particularly passionate about advocacy that helps clean the air and water in our communities.

You could say I was distressed by a report by the non-profit Sierra Club that mercury poisoning is disproportionately affecting Latinos. The primary culprit of this poisoning? Mercury emissions by coal plants that enter the food supply and is then ingested by unsuspecting Latino families, including children and pregnant women.

Read on:

Representatives from the Sierra Club warn that “Hispanics in the United States should be especially concerned about the fish that they catch, since many local waterways have high levels of mercury pollution.” Additionally, according to poll results: one-third of Latinos fish in freshwater lakes, where mercury pollution levels are significantly higher, thus increasing the likelihood of mercury exposure.

According to the report, 76 percent of Latinos eat the fish that they catch and 64 percent share what they catch with their families, which often include children and women of childbearing age – two of the most vulnerable populations at risk of mercury poisoning.

As I have mentioned here before, I grew up fishing with my dad in Miami, and our family ate what we caught. It is one of my fondest childhood memories of family meals together. Now, I cannot fathom feeding fish to my children, much less taking them fishing and eating what we caught. How sad.

Besides advocate for clean air on behalf of Moms Clean Air Force, I have also testified in Sacramento, California, to (unsuccessfully) change a rule practically mandating toxic flame retardants in baby products. The flame retardants, which animal studies have linked to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders, are sprayed in  practically every foam product from couches to nursing pillows. These flame retardants easily leach onto dust, pet hair, and the crumbling foam of old products — surely, I am not the only one who used second-hand baby products! — making them easy to ingest by children.

I was turned onto this issue as an advocate for MomsRising.org, but have continued following and writing about it even after that particular project expired. As a mom, it is disturbing to me that not only are companies allowed to pollute in our neighborhoods, but they are even allowed to sell us products with toxins like flame retardants. You could imagine my dismay when I learned that two states have passed laws increasing the amount of flame retardants in the foam of…school buses.


According to a recent e-mail by the Green Science Policy Institute, which is headed by a scientist whose work contributed to the phasing out of a cancer-causing flame retardant in children’s pajamas in the 1970s, the Bromine industry has succeeded in passing legislation for “severe flammability standards” for school bus seats in Maryland and in Nevada.

The…fire test of upholstered furniture required is typically met with levels of 40% or more of halogenated flame retardant chemical in foam and additional chemicals padded on the fabric.  
 
Children would be exposed to the toxic chemicals all the time they ride on school buses, while the fire safety benefit appears to be low. Children don’t smoke and in a large fire the retardants eventually will burn to produce high levels of toxic gases.

Wow. If there is any silver lining in these news stories, it is that parents ARE paying attention. I know that I am paying attention and acting. If you haven’t done so already, please join me and sign up at Moms Clean Air Force to let companies as well as legislators know that we are ALL paying attention. Dads are welcome too!

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Air Pollution Is Making Us Sick

(Photo courtesy of Think Progress) Last week I listened to a blog radio chat between Renee Ross, the health editor of BlogHer; Dr. Sande Okelo from John Hopkins Children’s Center; and Vernice Miller-Travis, the vice president of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities.

Ross has a son with asthma, which has worsened in this year’s heightened allergy season. Dr. Okelo treats children with asthma and just released a study indicating that “African-American patients are suffering longer from poorly controlled asthma than their Caucasian counterparts before being seen by an asthma specialist.” Miller-Travis has been in the trenches of environmental justice for 26 years.

I was appalled by how long it has been acceptable in this country for businesses to pollute at the expense of African-American children and other vulnerable people’s health. Here is a snippet of the conversation between Ross, Dr. Okelo and Miller-Travis:

After describing the health impact of locating a sewage treatment plant near residents in Harlem in the 1980s and 1990s, Miller-Travis and her colleagues found that “we had the highest rates of asthma in the country. Asthma onset, overall rate of asthma…we were aghast when we put those pieces together. But there was no seeming parallel energy in the public health community.

“We had to get people energized and fired up, and get people really engaged in a process with their local enviromental agencies…to put political pressure on environmental protection agencies to protect us, which they weren’t doing.”

Dr. Okelo, who spoke only of his treatment of asthma patients, said of his report’s findings: “What we found is that black children (with asthma) were arriving (to the hospital) having had more problems than white children. For example, black children were hospitalized twice whereas white children were hospitalized once. Black children were likely to be in the emergency room twice as much as white children.”

In terms of parents tying asthma to air pollution, Dr. Okelo said, “People are aware of certain contaminants and not others like people are aware of cigarette smoke.”

Both Dr. Okelo and Miller-Travis said that parents were opting to keep their children indoors so that their asthma wouldn’t be exacerbated by dirty air particles. Said Dr. Okelo: “I think (parents) are particularly concerned when there are weather warnings whether it be the pollan or the ozone. They are worried …Most parents are deciding to keep their children indoors.”

Miller-Travis gave this disturbing example of the impossible position polluters have put parents: “Of course you want your children to be outside. Physical education is important. In many communities it is diffcult to be outside because the air quality is so poor. We’ve argued for a really long time that while a park on top of a treatment facility is nice, but is it really the best place for our children to play? We think the answer is no. But in a place where there are few places for children to play outside…Do you send your children out to play in that?”

Also, some communities’ air quality have deteriorated over time, regardless whether they are located near a treatment plant, Miller-Travis said.  


While I was struck by how long Miller-Travis has bravely fought the good fight, two other things stood out to me about this conversation: one, how acceptable it has become to pollute in the neighborhoods of people of color — why isn’t this considered racism? — and two, how this issue has been framed as one of personal responsibility. For example, it is okay to call out parents for smoking, but not to alert them to air pollution by nearby companies, or hold these businesses accountable.

Asthma rates in this country have shot up in recent years, particularly among African American and Latino children, even as smoking rates have declined thanks to an aggressive public education campaign that includes smoking bans in restaurants, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to increased diagnoses in our communities — I am Latina, by the way — asthma costs grew from about $53 billion in 2002 to about $56 billion in 2007.

In other words, this is an issue that needs addressing. It is costing us in both money and lives. Both Dr. Okelo and Miller-Travis offered practical solutions for an otherwise depressing topic.

Dr. Okelo, whose area of expertise is treatment of young asthma patients, said that children can be diagnosed with the disease at any age, and that asthmatic symptoms can worsen or become mild over time. The important thing is for parents to follow up with a diagnosis by making sure that their children’s symptoms are under control with the right medication.

“Medicine is safe and can be taken for years. There are a whole lot of negative consequences for not being on the right medication: lost days in school and work, hospitalizations….A lot of parents and patients do have concerns of becoming ‘dependent on medication’… These asthma medicines you don’t develop a dependency (like narcotics).”

Miller-Travis was impressive in many ways. Not only has she advocated on behalf of children in her community for 26 years, she is also on the board of the National Healthy Schools Network, a non-profit coalition of experts focused on the environmental health of children at school. As it turns out, the indoor quality of schools is sometimes the “the worst air a child can be exposed to,” Miller-Travis said. “The school buildings children are going to are so old…the use of pesticides inside the school building or in the immediate vicinity of the school building. There are not a lot of air quality protections inside the school building.”

Miller-Travis said there isn’t a lot of movement on the federal level, but on the local level parents and teachers are taking charge to build schools with non-toxic materials and/or switch to non-toxic products when cleaning the inside a school’s building.

“We need mothers to get involved,” she said. “This is a people-powered type of thing.”

Miller-Travis said it wasn’t enough to only organize online. “Not everyone has access to a computer. There is a generational divide….We need to go door-to-door to bring folks out.”

She also emphasized the importance of educating people on the Clean Air Act, which hasn’t been fully implemented because the country’s top polluters have filed lawsuits against the EPA. “One of the things that people can do is to call their members of Congress, visit their member offices to let them know why this is important as a parent….I think you are a particularly powerful constituency not heard from as an organized (group).”  

For ways that parents can meet with each other and either visit or write to their members of Congress, BlogHer’s Ross suggested that we sign up for Moms Clean Air Force — of which I am a proud member! Here is MCAF’s Facebook and Twitter pages. We are having another live blog radio chat about this very topic on July 6 at 9 p.m. ET..

MomsRising.org — of which I am a proud member, too! — also organizes parents to meet with their members of Congress both in writing and in-person. Considering what’s at stake for not being involved — our children’s future — we can’t afford not to speak out.

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This Report Makes Me Sick to My Stomach

The foremost scientific experts on the ocean just released a disturbing study on how pollution, warming and acidification of our oceans is leading to mass extinctions of life. Unless we curve our crustacean appetites and polluting ways, all coral reefs, for example, are expected to be gone by 2050.

Here is the report:

The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth, supports us and maintains our world in a habitable condition. To maintain the goods and services it has provided to mankind for millenia demands change in how we view, manage, govern and use marine ecosystems. The scale of the stresses on the ocean means that deferring action will increase costs in the future leading to even greater losses of benefits.

Shudder. This saddens me in so many ways. As someone who grew up fishing with her dad in Florida, and eating a lot of seafood — which used to be good for you! — I am sad that my children might not experience the untouched beauty of fishing and eating what they caught.  

I am equally disturbed by the number of people who would rather believe polluters than the scientists who are warning us. Folks like these commenters at the Huffington Post:

“Write an article predicting doom because people are too materialistic and numbskulls fall over themselves to agree with it. nasty streak of misanthropy in many environmentalist I think.”
–UK Visitor

“In many cases the peer review is a sham because the scientists never let anyone outside of their Groupthink do an official review.”…–BrentW1

Right. You mean they don’t allow people without actual scientific credentials to conduct research? That’s probably a good thing!


Look, I am no scientist, but I am also not deaf and blind. My sister says that people around her now go “fishing for sport,” meaning that they throw back what they catch. They can’t eat the fish because the water contains too many chemicals like mercury, and even radiation. Yuck.

I also know that my pediatrician warned me against eating fish while I was pregnant because seafood today contains too much mercury. I don’t make it at home, and instead buy eggs and flaxseed breads that have the same omega 3 fatty acids benefits as fish.

Yes, there are days I choose to keep the blinders on when it comes to reports like the one above. I love seafood, and I don’t like to feel helpless, especially since this is going to take our collective efforts to tackle. But, I can no longer keep the blinders on, not when my children and the generations after them are affected. That is too big of a risk to take.

Please join me at Moms Clean Air Force. Together we can join scientists to put the pressure on companies dirtying our air and water.  

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To Clean Our Air Is To Be Pro-Life

With all the political mudslinging, you would think that people of faith only care about two things: abortion and gay marriage.

As a practicing Catholic I tend to think the media portrays people of faith in black-and-white, which is why I was thrilled to see the Catholic Church remind parishioners — and the public! — that being “pro-life” also means ensuring that the unborn and the born have clean air to thrive.

Here is a letter by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference in support of the EPA’s proposed standards to reduce mercury and air toxins produced by power plants:

While we are not experts on air pollution, our general support for a national standard to reduce hazardous air pollution from power plants is guided by Catholic teaching, which calls us to care for God’s creation and protect the common good and the life and dignity of human persons, especially the poor and vulnerable, from conception until natural death. As we articulated in Putting Children and Families First: “For generations, the Catholic community has reached out to children… We have defended their right to life itself and their right to live with dignity, to realize the bright promise and opportunity of childhood.”

Children, inside and outside the womb, are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards and exposure to toxic pollutants in the environment. Their bodies, behaviors and size leave them more exposed than adults to such health hazards. Furthermore, since children are exposed to environmental hazards at an early age, they have more extended time to develop slowly-progressing environmentally triggered illnesses…

A national standard limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution represents an important opportunity to protect the health and welfare of all people, especially our children and poor and vulnerable communities. Applying such a standard would reduce emissions of mercury from power plants by 91 percent marking a significant step forward. Some may attempt to weaken this proposed standard. However, we believe we ought to take prudent and responsible action to protect our children.

Faith-based organizations and families are a powerful coalition that not even the best-funded plants and their lobbyists can break. Let’s keep the momentum for this bill going. If you haven’t already done so, please join me at Moms Clean Air Force and write to the EPA in support of the proposed rule to reduce mercury and toxins in our air. Also pass the word onto your churches and communities! Thank you!

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How Diabetes and the Environment Are Linked

One in 10 U.S. Latinos aged 20 and older have diagnosed diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Like many Hispanics in the country, my family has its fair share of diabetics and we are all too familiar with the different types of diabetes: Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes — gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes, diabetes that require insulin, diabetes controlled by diet alone, foot sores and other ailments associated with the disease. We, too, are familiar with the confusion and fear of where these diseases come from and whether they will take another life in our family.

Diabetes, by the way, is a group of diseases distinguished by high levels of blood glucose due to defects in insulin production. Diabetes if left untreated can lead to serious complications like blindness and foot amputations, and even premature death. According to the National Institutes of Health, diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States with healthcare and related costs totaling $174 billion annually.

Both my maternal grandmother and aunt — her daughter — died of heart failure. My aunt died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in front of her then 12-year-old son. Both women battled with their weight and Type 2 diabetes. My mother has Type 2 diabetes. Because of my family’s history with the disease as well as the amount of weight I gained in my two pregnancies — I ended up giving birth to two large babies — our doctors have always monitored me and my children for diabetes.

The fear of becoming diabetic motivates me to eat as healthy as possible and to exercise. But there is one aspect of the disease for which I have no control: the environment.

The first time I learned of an outside connection to diabetes was in California when I advocated for the phasing out of a toxic chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastic baby products like bottles and sippy cups. At the time, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a major study linking BPA to diabetes and heart disease. It was then that I stopped putting plastic bowls in the microwave oven, switched to glass bottles for my toddler and opted to buy BPA-free products instead.

Most recently, I read a book (pictured above), titled The Buena Salud Guide to Diabetes and Your Life by Jane L. Delgado, Ph.Dl, M.S., who also happens to be the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Dr. Delgado not only addressed lifestyle choices associated with diabetes like inactivity and a poor diet, but she also went into detail about how our toxic environment could contribute to more cases of diabetes. Here is what she had to say about the impact of air pollution on our health:

What we know for sure is that there are too many pollutants and toxic substances and that EPA keeps track of too few of them….Airborne toxics include benzene (which is found in gasoline), dioxin, asbestos, and toluene and metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds. Keep in mind that sometimes the most hazardous particles to breathe are the ones that you cannot see.

Dr. Delgado suggested that families take inventory and reduce the toxic chemicals they are exposed to, including “household cleaning products, bug sprays, paint, garden and plant chemicals, and so on.”

I would take Dr. Delgado’s advice a step further. For too long we have allowed private industry to pollute in the name of putting personal profits over the health of the larger community. Why not tell the EPA to do its job and help us reduce toxins in our air? Here is the website to do that.

We have control over whether or not we exercise, and for the most part, what we feed our families. We don’t have control over the air that we breathe. The least that polluters can do is to clean up their act, or foot the bill for our health care.

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