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 explanation 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.”
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