December 5 marks the beginning of the Sierra Club's Mercury Awareness Week. In anticipation of that, here are four ways to help you keep the toxic stuff out of your life.
1. Know your seafood. Most mercury poisoning happens by eating contaminated sea animals, whose flesh absorbs the air pollution brought down by rain. How does all that muck get into the air? Coal-fired power plants are America's biggest source of mercury pollution, spewing dozens of tons of the illness-causing element every year.
To keep it off your plate, consult this chart (PDF) to learn which kinds of fish are safe -- and which aren't. A good rule of thumb: The bigger and older the animal, the more likely it is to be contaminated. So turn away tuna and swordfish in favor of sardines or clams.
Sushi aficionados: Check the Sierra Club's site on Thursday, December 8, when we'll be launching a smart-phone app to help you gauge which types of sushi will help keep your body mercury-free.
2. Tap into your inner activist. As President Obama prepares to approve the first nationwide protections against mercury emissions from coal plants, big-business lobbyists are working to block these safeguards. If you'd like to show your support for the regulations -- which would cut 90% of mercury from coal-fired power plants -- consider coordinating or attending a rally, demonstration, or teach-in to urge the president to stand up to polluters and protect all Americans, especially children and pregnant women, from the ills of mercury. If you've only got time to quickly sign a petition, you can do so here.
3. Conserve electricity. Sure, it's Big Coal's fault there's tons of mercury in our air and water. But who's really to blame? The consumer. That's right: you and me. As long as the demand for electricity stays as unsustainably massive as it is right now, corporations will be glad to provide and supply. While it's not realistic to boycott electricity completely, there are things that, if each of us did, would deliver a collective blow to the polluting powers that be. Solutions include pursuing energy-efficiency at home and at the office, installing a power meter to identify waste, and asking your utility company to rely more on renewable energy sources, like the sun and wind.
4. Get tested. Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, can affect anyone. But it's a particular threat to babies and pregnant women, since it can cause birth defects, developmental problems, learning disabilities, even premature death. In the U.S., at least one woman in 12 has enough of this heavy metal in her body to harm a fetus -- which means that more than 300,000 babies born each year are at risk of mercury poisoning. The good news for women: You can lower your body's mercury level before you get pregnant. If you're of childbearing age, take a hair test, a urine test, or ask your doctor for a blood test (though some dispute blood tests' accuracy for mercury). If your levels are high, reevaluate the kinds of seafood you're eating.
[via Sierra Club's Green Life blog]