Gretchen Alfonso From Clean Air Council Joins MCAF

BY ON March 9, 2012

Gretchen AlfonsoThis is a guest post by Gretchen Alfonso:

Even before my first child was born I began to make efforts to provide a home that was free from harmful toxins & chemicals: we ripped up the old carpet, painted the nursery walls with VOC-free paint & banned plastic from the kitchen. We opted for organic & recycled clothing, cloth diapers and locally-sourced, organic food. My husband spent his weekends installing locks on the cupboards, gates on the stairs & covers on the outlets. When it comes to the safety of our children, we will go to any length. However, the fact remains that despite our best efforts as parents to keep our children healthy & safe, we are always aware that anything can happen…that sometimes forces larger than ourselves are at work beyond our happy, little, familial bubble.

When it comes to protecting my children, and taking precautions on their behalf, I do not ignore the facts. It makes me angry that, despite my best efforts at living a healthy lifestyle, toxins from all angles are invading my children’s young and developing bodies. As a mother I am very concerned about the devastating health risks that unchecked pollutants pose. The most disturbing fact is that coal and oil-fired power plants release more than 386,000 tons of 84 different pollutants into the atmosphere each year. Many of these pollutants are damaging to the health of my family but I am particularly concerned with the dangerous amounts of mercury that these coal-fired power plants release into our air and water – and into the bodies of my children.

As a mother, I am worried about the constant threat our children face from pollution in our air and water, pollutants that can cause a range of health issues from smog-causing asthma attacks to toxic mercury harming children’s neurological development.

High blood levels of methyl mercury in unborn babies and children are extremely dangerous. Exposures before birth are of special concern because the developing fetus is highly vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals. The fetus develops quickly in the womb, and toxic chemicals easily derail that development:  mercury can harm the nervous system and interfere with the development of a growing child’s brain. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methyl mercury in the womb. The threat of mercury affecting our yet to be born children is very real: EPA research found that one in twelve women of child-bearing age, my age, has enough mercury in her body to put her unborn child at risk.

There is a ray of light shining through our smoggy horizons: On December 16, 2011 the new Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, drafted by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, was signed and entered the Federal Register just last week on February 16, 2012. These new standards will not only spur innovation and provide some much needed job creation (as many as 46,000 new jobs!) but will save thousands of American lives and the health of our children.

It is disheartening that many polluters and public officials are aiming to the block these new clean air standards. It is not hyperbolic to say that politicians who don’t support the EPA are putting the profits of polluters before the health of our children. Supporting the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards means supporting our children’s cognitive development as well as their overall health for the duration of their lives. The evidence must not be ignored – mothers from all over the country recognize that the choice is simple & that the consequences of not moving forward with these standards would be devastating. This is the time for politicians to do the right thing & protect our children. Now is the time for mothers to take a stand and demand that our leaders put American children first!

THANK YOU, Gretchen!

Gretchen Alfonso is the Field Outreach Coordinator for the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, PA focusing on outreach to local moms, children’s environmental health, and clean air advocacy. Raised on the shores of Lake Erie in western Pennsylvania she has worked across the state on environmental education and activism at the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier (LEAF), Clean Air Council & as a spokesmom for the Sierra Club of Southeastern PA.  Gretchen spends most of her time raising two small children with her chef husband and blogs about their culinary & parenting adventures at GastroMami.

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TOPICS: Dads, Mercury Poisoning, Motherhood, Pennsylvania, Pollution, Science