Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Joins MCAF

BY ON July 29, 2011

We’re thrilled to welcome the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) to the Moms Clean Air Force. As an MCAF partner, ANHE publicly stands with moms, dads and others in defense of clean air and our kids’ health.

No Thanks, I Don’t Need a Side of Mercury With My Fish!
By Katie Huffling, ANHE Steering Committee

“It shouldn’t have to be this confusing to figure out what to eat when you’re pregnant!”

Little girl kissing Mom's pregnant belly.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had my clients and their families express annoyance at having difficulty with food choices in pregnancy. More often than not the cause of their confusion is related to eating fish. Pregnant women are counseled to eat fish during pregnancy because they contain omega-3 fatty acids that aid in fetus’s neurodevelopment. But then I have to explain that they can only eat certain fish, and not too much every week, because most fish contain mercury, a potent neurotoxicant. It’s so confusing I have to give my patients a wallet guide to take with them when they go shopping so they can figure out which fish are safe to buy!

So where is this mercury coming from?

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury in the US (as well as arsenic, acid gases, and 25 percent of all toxic metal emissions). When the mercury flows out of the smoke stacks it gets into our air, land, waterways and the fish we eat. In a report released in 2004, the Center’s for Disease Control estimated that one in ten American women of childbearing age had mercury levels high enough to harm a growing fetus.  The EPA’s own analysis of this data suggests that as many as 630,000 babies born each year are being exposed to unsafe levels of mercury and most of this mercury exposure comes from eating fish contaminated with mercury. Exposure to mercury, and other toxic air pollutants released from coal-fired power plants can damage children’s developing brains, leading to reduced IQ and negatively impacting their ability to learn.

Besides not eating fish what can we do?

First off – I counsel all of my patients to keep eating fish. It’s an excellent protein and contains the omega-3 fatty acids that are good for growing fetus’s brain, as well as being heart healthy for adults. You can download a fish buying guide here.

You can support the EPA in their newly proposed Mercury and Air Toxics rule. This proposed rule would update the Clean Air Act and would prevent: 91 percent of the mercury in coal burned in power plants from being emitted into the air, 91 percent of acid gas emissions from power plants, and 53 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants. If we can stop the mercury from getting into the air, it won’t end up in the fish we eat. It is estimated that this rule will prevent 12,200 trips to the hospital and save up to 17,000 lives each year. You can email a letter to the EPA in support of the proposed rule here. Comments need to be submitted by August 4, 2011.

You can also ask your elected officials to take the Clean Air Promise:

  • I Promise to protect America’s children and families from dangerous air pollution.
  • Because toxics and pollutants such as mercury, smog, carbon, and soot, cause thousands of hospital visits, asthma attacks, and even deaths.
  • I will support clean air policies and other protections that scientists and public health experts have recommended to the EPA to safeguard our air quality.

Join Forces – There is power in numbers!

Here at the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments we have been working with other organizations, such as Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), to get the word out on how important clean air is to the health of our patients, families, and communities (Brenda Afzal, RN, MS is the HCWH US Climate Policy Coordinator and moderates the Climate Change and Health Community here at EnviRN.org).

Now we are also partnering with the Mom’s Clean Air Force. We know that many nurses are moms, dads, and grandparents and we all have an important story to tell. If we work together in support of clean air we can be an amazing force to be reckoned with!

Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM is a nurse-midwife and is passionately working to reduce environmental exposures that can negatively impact reproductive health.

TOPICS: Mercury Poisoning, Pollution