BY ON April 5, 2011

I recently ran across an excellent article in Orion magazine, by Sandra Steingraber, on the effect of toxic chemicals–with an emphasis on mercury–on our children’s brains. “Developmental disabilities now affect about one in every six U.S. children, and most of these are disabilities of the nervous system,” she writes. Among them are mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, reading, math and general learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders. Steingraber notes the central conclusion of a paper recently released in a prestigious publication, The Lancet: “The combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals have created a silent pandemic in modern society.”

Dominique Browning

But it isn’t just mercury that is coming out of coal-fired power plants. They’re also spewing acid gases, metals like arsenic, lead, and formaldehyde. And these poisons are affecting our children’s brains and lungs. That’s why it is so important to understand what is at stake with the new EPA ruling to cut down on air toxics.

Written by Sandra Steingraber, Mind Games is a wide-ranging and authoritative article. She does a good job of connecting many alarming dots of research; Steingraber is a graceful writer who makes the science quite clear–and she takes it to a personal level that hit home with me.

Steingraber also teases out a fascinating parallel to today’s regulatory lethargy in the scandalously long, drawn out fight in the sixties and seventies over banning lead in paint and gasoline. She notes that the incidence of mental retardation is going down, and this is partly because of a successful ban on poisonous lead in house paint in 1977, and gasoline in 1990.

These bans were “carried out over the objections, threats, denials, and obfuscations of the lead industry, [and] are considered triumphs of public health.” Exactly the same thing–threats, objections, denials, obfuscations, and worse–that the coal industry is doing today.

We have done it before. We have kept poisons out of our lives. We can do it again.

The other neurological developmental disorders mentioned above are on the rise. Prenatal exposure to methymercury is associated with loss of IQ, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. As Steingraber writes about babies’ developing brains: “Methylmercury stunts the growth of baby glial cells, disrupts the transmission of dopamine, and damages cells in the hippocampus–the sea-horse shaped structure that serves as an office for memory.”

We have to emphasize: our MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE campaign to support the EPA’s efforts to clean up the coal plants is all about our children’s health.

I have been writing about toxic chemicals at Slow Love Life for a while now; I recently wondered if I was becoming paranoid? The answer is clear: We are not yet scared enough.

Air pollution is a problem we can solve–in a cost-effective way. We have the right to be protected from poisons in our air, water and food. This kind of protection is exactly what good government can–and does–do on behalf of its citizens.

I call the Orion piece to your attention, as the magazine has a small circulation. I urge you to pass it along. The more we know, the more empowered we are to demand change.

TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Autism, Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution, Social Justice