Mercury Mama’s Sweet Dream

BY ON May 8, 2012

Brick home surrounded by plants and trees

Many moons ago, when I was a young pregnant teacher, I taught in a private school that was housed in an old Victorian building. The brick building had many charming features such as fireplaces, ornate moldings and glittering chandeliers in the classrooms. It also had bookcases high up to the ceiling. In my classroom – the Language Arts room, the top shelves held vintage children’s books, some rare first edition classics. The Social Studies classroom had ancient yellowing maps that dangled down from the upper shelves. On the tippy top shelf of the Science room, far out of reach from small hands, stood vintage glass beakers with unidentified liquids from years past when the building had been a doctor’s office.

One bright spring day, I poked my 7-month belly into the Science room to have lunch with a fellow teacher. A few kids joined us to show off a cool stick they found in the woods by playground. The stick looked just like a boomerang. They were raring to fling it. They had come to ask permission. Before an explanTeacher reading to a studentation about why it would not be appropriate to set the stick into flight, one of the children impulsively flung it. The stick hit the top shelf broadside, sending the antique beakers and their contents smashing down. There was glass and liquid everywhere.

Within minutes, the other teacher, kids and I were whisked off to the hospital. An administrator had called when he caught wind of what happened. I had never been a patient in a hospital, let alone set foot in a screaming ambulance. The kids needed me not to freak out, so I stayed relatively calm. Until…

In a composed manner, the EMT explained the seriousness of the situation to the children. That was the exact moment my blissfully uneventful pregnancy got derailed. In my 29 year-old panicked pregnant state, I heard one of the doctors say we need to watch her for poisoning:

Mercury and a motherlode of other chemicals could have been lurking in those beakers.”

“MERCURY! Isn’t that the stuff in glass thermometers that you weren’t supposed to bite down hard on and break?”

“Yes, there are three kinds…for a pregnant woman, mercury can be especially damaging.”

Glass beakers3 Types Of Mercury

1. Elemental mercury is found in thermometers. The inhalation of fumes from this type of mercury is highly toxic. Mercury can cause significant amounts of neurological damage to babies and children.

2. Mercury salts come from industrial emissions. Breathing or ingesting mercury salts can harm the kidneys.

3. Organic mercury is what leaches into the food chain. Water can become polluted during the manufacturing of certain types of energy production. The mercury can accumulate in shellfish and fish. Organic mercury acts similarly to elemental mercury.

Yikes! Is your heart racing as fast as mine right now? I’m calming myself so I can tell you the rest of the story…

After hours of blood and urine testing, and a full ER exam, I was given the green light and told to go home and watch for any unusual symptoms.


With pregnancy dreams hopped up on overdrive, even unprovoked, every possible baby horror was passing through my sleep state. Now ALL of my dreams became punctuated with a capital “M” for MERCURY.

This is the first time I’ve told this story in the 26 years since my daughter was born. We were lucky – there were no “unusual symptoms.” As I am about to celebrate my beautiful, healthy daughter’s birthday (she was born on Mother’s Day weekend), those dreams are coming back to me. Did politicians think when they sided with corporate energy lobbyists to block limits on mercury pollution that we moms wouldn’t notice? Let’s prove them sorely wrong, and stand up for our kids by protecting the Clean Air Act.

Here’s the rub: No matter what age our children are, there are things we can protect them from and things we can’t (wayward boomerangs). Mercury spewing into the bodies of pregnant women and children, and accumulating in our food chain, we MUST stop.

What do I want for my children this Mother’s Day? Oh, that’s simple: Sweet Clean Air Dreams.

Mercury Q & A

How Mercury Works
Regulations Every Mother Should Love: Mercury and Air Toxics


TOPICS: Mercury Poisoning, Motherhood, Politics, Pollution, Pregnancy, Schools

  • We are mothers and fathers, and families, and community members and those who work in the area in NYC who are fighting against the proposed Marine Transfer Station for East 91st. Our group is IMPACTNY Against the Building of the East 91st Marine Transfer Station (see facebook put in “marine transfer station” for it to come up. We had one there from 1945-1999. Asphalt Green Community Center was built on the grounds with a playground and playing field on either side of a small ramp area (they would like to expand into two large high way ramps) and across from Stanley Isaacs Public Housing. The City wants to build a new 10 story, 5,280 ton a day solid waste station AGAIN there. The plan calls for mercury and other dangerous chemicals to be housed there and in the 30 page draft permit from Sanitation, the Dept of Sanitation and the DEP indemnify each other in long paragraphs if there is a fire or spill. There is no law nationally that first responders need to know what chemicals are stored in Solid Waste Transfer Stations (see “Fire in Apex” – the Chemical Safety Board) In Apex, NC first responders had to move 5 times before they were able to safely remove over 17 thousand people in the middle of the night. Here we have over 75 thousand people and no way off the island. In fact, a fire or spill would close off one of the main arteries to leave the City as the MTS would be right over the FDR highway. The plan also calls for radiation detectors for mercury and other dangerous chemicals one on the side of the playground and one on the side of the playing field. All of this within 300 feet of Stanley Isaacs and John Holmes Public Housing and their playground right outside their Day Care Center and their Elderly Center. Assembly Members Kellner of Manhattan and Diaz of the Bronx have put forth a bill in Albany which says solid waste transfer stations do not belong within 800 feet of public housing. This is within 300 feet. Although it passed through the Environmental Committee in Albany two times they have not been able to bring it to the floor. Our group has collected more than 10 thousand signatures including over a thousand doctors and scientists who are for this bill and against the building of the MTS for East 91st. As a mother who’s children play soccer there, I am wondering what is in the soil right now that they play on, from the almost 50 years when the old plant was there and how could the City even consider this plan? Its not “environmental justice” because we had one there for all those years and its across from public housing, an “inconvenient truth.” The families of East Harlem and the Upper East Side have not been considered, even though the City elected officials were present when a new Children’s Asthma and Respiratory Illnesses Center has just been opened in East Harlem a few blocks away from the proposed MTS. Members of the community remember the rats swarming the soccer field in pacts, and the mice, and cockroaches. This is NOT the environmental message that NYC should be giving to the world as to how urban areas should handle their commercial garbage. All the good that has been done in this City in relation to trying to make our City “Green ” goes right into the garbage on this issue!! Mercury detectors next to playgrounds?!! This is NOT “Make NY Green.” Apparently we have heard, it appears to be a big corporate deal, not “environmental justice.” Even Capt. Sully of the “Miracle on the Hudson” fame has weighed in saying that the plant would interfere with the flights from the airports nearby because of all the swarms of seagulls that would pick at the garbage. Can you imagine in the open air, all this mercury and other toxic substances and our wildlife? We should also mention that the Army Corps of Engineers has yet to grant the permits for the City to build the dump, as there are environmental factors in relation to using the East River once again and the impact on the fish and wild life. Right now we not only see ducks, and even a little seal was found, but many of the people in the area who use the area to fish, including many from the public housing, to supplement their food supply. We do not want to see mercury in our fishing in the East River. I have seen children along the water way cleaning fish with their parents from their catch. NYC has to find a new solution. This plan is over 10 years old and its STINKS. Thank you for the great work you are doing we are posting your posts on our facebook site.

  • I am so happy that your daughter was fine! A bit of this made a tear come to my eye. Why were my children both disabled, so differently? Is there a link with mercury and autism? Here in PA, frakking is a done deal more or less, does that matter? The water is not palatable, filled with limestone – which I heard can also raise mercury dust when mined. Did I hurt my family moving an hour north of the most toxic city in America (Philadelphia)?

    You think these things, and you blame yourself, but we are not to blame. Actions like the Clean Air Act save lives, save babies, save brains. Isn’t the future of our country, the safety our children and their children, worth more than money lining a politicians or a corporation’s pockets? I hope we are moving toward this.

  • Gina, we moms do the best we can and I’m sure you are not to blame for your children’s disabilities. But this is the time we must become active. We can not sit by while our children are poisoned. The outcry of petitions are making a difference. Educating yourself on websites like this can empower you to take the next step…sign a petition and vote as if your children’s lives depend upon it…because they do. Thank you so much for supporting clean air and for sharing your heartfelt thoughts.