September 27, 2005

Got Mercury? Get Tested!

With evidence mounting about the dangers of mercury contamination to the health of Illinois children, Sierra Club is sponsoring a series of mercury testing events this fall at locations across Illinois. Sierra Club is teaming up with local hair salons to offer a simple test that measures mercury pollution in a person’s body from a sample of their hair.

1 in 6 women of childbearing age in the U.S. already has enough mercury in her body to put a fetus at risk of learning disabilities and developmental problems. Illinois residents who have been wondering just how much mercury is in their bodies—and what can be done about it, can now find out easily by having a small lock of hair clipped and tested for mercury exposure at one of these events.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued warnings about the dangers of eating large fish out of any Illinois river or lake. People who eat these fish, or certain types of ocean fish, including tuna and swordfish, may accumulate unhealthy levels of mercury in their bodies.

The test takes only minutes, and is free to the first 20 attendees at each location. Hair samples will be taken by a professional stylist. Individual results are confidential, reported only to each person tested. The samples are being taken as part of a national study of mercury contamination levels, with the samples analyzed by the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

The tests begin today with an event in Willowbrook, and include events in the north, west, and south suburbs, north and south sides of Chicago, Peoria, and the metro East region. For a complete list of events, and to make a reservation, see

September 15, 2005

Obama Calls For Sane Energy Policy In Wake of Katrina

We all know Barack Obama can give a great speech. Today's was stirring - a speech on the Senate floor about the lessons in the aftermath of Katrina for our nation's energy policy

"The days of running a 21st century economy on a 20th century fossil fuel are numbered - and we need to realize that before it's too late. "

You can read speech at

For all the devastation, injustice, and despair to come out of hurricane Katrina, it is also beginning to sound like a loud wakeup call regarding the policies of our government in many areas. Let's hope that America follows the lead of Senator Obama and others who are speaking out at this historic time to not only seek aid and justice for those impacted by the disaster, but to change the way our government protects us and our future. Better yet, let's not just hope, let's help make it happen.

September 13, 2005

Gore's Katrina Speech

Al Gore's recent speech on Katrina is a must read. See it at:

Gore gave this speech to the Sierra Club's first-ever Summit meeting this past weekend in San Francisco. He initially declined to address the Summit, because he had been invited to address state insurance commissioners on the risks posed by global warming, but their conference was set for New Orleans.

September 08, 2005

ComEd Breaks Clean Energy Promise

Commonwealth Edison has apparently broken its commitment to meet the goals of Governor Blagojevich's Sustainable Energy Plan, notably getting 8% of the power they sell from wind and other clean sources.

ComEd has repeatedly and publicly expressed their support and commitment to acheiving this goal, and their commitment was poised to provide the market for one of the largest wind projects in the country. Having local wind power as part of our power supply would obviously clean the air, but also protect us against volatile prices, and benefit farmers and the local economy.

But Wednesday ComEd balked, and now the whole Plan is in question. It appears that ComEd is breaking their promise to the State and its customers as retaliation for Governor Blagojevich challenging their attempts to raise electric rates for residential customers.

Maybe ComEd is just posturing by doing this, but it is a severe blow both to Illinois' clean energy plans and to the company's credibility. Perhaps they will come to their senses, and keep their word. Come on, Com Ed!

September 04, 2005

Katrina - An UnNatural Disaster?

The stories, images, sights, and sounds coming out of the gulf coast region this week are overwhelming, and hopefully the response from government agencies and people across America will be as impressive as the hurricane was devastating.

Obviously hurricanes are a natural phenomenon. But there is strong evidence that pollution and habitat destruction made Katrina as strong as she was, and robbed New Orleans of defenses that protected it for most of its history.

Katrina crossed over south Florida before hitting the Gulf coast. Instead of weakening over land, Katrina was able to build its terrifying strength over the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These rising ocean temperatures are exactly what computer models of climate change project will become the norm as a result of rising pollution levels.

The storm and aftermath raises other issues about the importance that wetland systems play in protecting communities from floods. Since the hurricane Camille hit approximately the same region, Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been a sacrifice zone for oil and gas exploration and production and other development. Instead of providing a healthy buffer for storm surge, coastal wetlands and Gulf beaches have been decimated again and the extent of damage is currently unknown. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, three-square miles of wetlands can reduce storm surge by a foot. One acre of wetland can absorb a million gallons of stormwater.

Although the extent of the environmental devastation remains unknown, it is clear that the flooding has brought a toxic soup to New Orleans: At least two hazardous waste sites are underwater, at least two oil refinery sites in Chalmette are shut down and possibly flooded, and throughout the city gas stations and natural gas pipelines are flooded and leaking into
water-soaked neighborhoods. In addition, bacteria and fecal matter contaminate the flood waters and mosquito-borne and other disease threatens.

Right now are thoughts are with those still awaiting rescue, attempting to assemble the basic necessities of life, and trying to contemplate their future after such incomprehensible loss. Hopefully in the weeks, months, and years ahead, the horror of Katrina will inform ongoing debates about public policies on energy, climate change, and wetlands protection.