Why did New Hampshire state assembly members interrupt debate to get haircuts? For the same reason you might want to part with a couple of inches of hair: To test for mercury contamination.
Getting tested is especially important for women of childbearing age, says the Sierra Club's Christina Kreitzer, who is organizing mercury tests across the country, because one in six of them have mercury levels high enough to put their babies at risk. "Mercury is toxic," she says, "and getting tested is easy."
It's part of a nationwide clinical study to learn how eating fish affects mercury in the body. Hair test kits are available for $25 to individuals who want to find out their mercury levels. The clinical study is by Drs. Steven Patch and Richard Maas, researchers from the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, whose preliminary findings show a direct relationship between subjects' mercury levels and how often they eat fish. Patch says that evidence suggests -- they're still studying this -- that if you cut your consumption of large predator fish (such as tuna or mackerel), you can reduce your levels in a few months.
Cathy Corkery, who organized the event in New Hampshire, says the main way mercury gets into fish is from coal-fired power plants, and that the New Hampshire state Senate has passed a bill that would cut smokestack emissions. The Assembly is studying the bill. As for legislators whose hair tests come back with high levels of mercury, Corkery says, "Our message is simple: Reduce your consumption of fish and pass the mercury bill."
Find out more about mercury pollution and what you can do to protect yourself and your family from mercury.
We got Bill Maher, the headliner for the Club-sponsored Sierra Summit, on the phone last week and asked about his take on the environment, President Bush, even the price of gas. Here's an excerpt:
Q: On your Earth Day show, you said, "I hate to tell you this, folks, but gas doesn't cost too much, it costs too little." We've found when we make this argument, the rebuttal is frequently, "Oh, but that will hurt the poor."
Maher: Not everything can be organized around the principle that poor people are hurt the most. The air is something we all breathe, rich, poor, and middle-class. This country was able to accept the fact that smoking was something that should be overtaxed to discourage its use because it's bad for us, but not gasoline. Somewhere along the line in the last 20 years we came to understand that smoking in public places was just intolerable, because it meant you were befouling the air we all breathe. Well, what about the bar that we call Earth? It's a big bar, and some people are smoking in it, and we all have to breathe the air. George Bush is like a selfish bar owner who's catering to his smoking clientele because they're very good customers.
Read the full interview.
Two news items wrapped into one here: First, the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct in the United States, has been sighted in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas (seven confirmed sightings), and second, the Sierra Club is commending Interior Secretary Gale Norton. She recently announced a multi-year, multi-million dollar partnership to help the rare bird's survival and recovery.
As New York Times science writer James Gorman says: "It wasn't a miracle. It wasn't luck. And it wasn't simply the resilience of nature, although that helped. The reason for the astonishing re-emergence of a mysterious bird is...habitat preservation, achieved by hard, tedious work, like lobbying, legislating and fund-raising."
Bart Semcer, from the Sierra Club's wildlands team, stresses that Congress can help restore populations of this woodpecker and other endangered species by making it easier for the public to support land trusts, by creating meaningful incentives for private landowners to conserve and improve habitat on their property, and by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Find out more about how the Endangered Species Act protects habitat.
Benjamin Lilly, a Boy Scout from Los Altos, California, has never been to the famous Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but when he found out it might be closed if nearby Valle Vidal is opened to coalbed methane drilling, he donated $800 of his Bar Mitzvah gifts to the Sierra Club to help protect the area.
"Last summer I was the youngest in our Boy Scout troop to go on the 50-mile backpacking trip," he says. "So it seemed fitting to give to a nature-related cause." Ben, whose parents are both Sierra Club members, learned about the Valle Vidal in a SIERRA magazine article, "30-Hour Valley."
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