Moms, Health Professionals and Environmental Groups Call for Strong National Mercury Standards
On Dec. 1, the Sierra Club joined with local families and environmental organizations to call upon President Barack Obama to enact strong mercury standards for our power plants. These first ever standards, proposed in March, would reduce mercury in our air and water by more than 90 percent.
Mercury has been linked with serious developmental disorders and learning disabilities and at the moment our power plants are allowed to spew this toxic pollution without limits. Ohio’s coal plants are among the worst in country emitting more than 4,218 pounds of airborne mercury pollution every year, a leading factor in making Ohio number one for toxic air pollution in the country.
Theresa Davis-Bowling, a mother from Cleveland, who’s son lives with chronic asthma, is now preparing to give her son Zolar shots which cost $1,200 each. “Initially he has to take a shot every week for a month and then every month thereafter, which will cost $4,800 the first month and a total of $18,000 for one year—he's only 13, you do the math.”
The experience of Theresa’s son is just one of many across the country, every year the coal industry causes more than $100 billion in health costs due to the toxic pollution of their coal plants. By reducing particle matter by 55 percent, these mercury standards would help curve Cuyahoga County’s extreme incidence of asthma. In 2008, the asthma rate among Cleveland school children was more than double the national average.
Jesse Honsky, a registered nurse and expert on maternal and child health, lamented that “A child exposed to toxic levels of mercury faces not just health consequences, but also social, economic and quality of life consequences. The harmful effects of mercury can be permanent and the effects can last for years after the damage occurs.”
The families of Northeast Ohio now urge Obama to bring us across the finish line with strong mercury standards. Nationally more than 900,000 public comments have demonstrated support for strong U.S. Environmental Protection Agency protections, while locally more than 1,000 postcards have been sent to the state calling for investments in cleaner alternatives. It is now up to Obama to finalize the standards and take a stand for the health of Ohio’s families. Strong national mercury standards would result in 120,000 asthma attacks avoided, 12,200 emergency room visits avoided and 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis avoided.
Rashay Layman of the Sierra Club reiterated these sentiments saying, "two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution in our state comes from these old, dirty coal plants. From asthma attacks to developmental disabilities, coal makes people sick. Ohio needs President Obama to get us across the finish-line on these long awaited standards."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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Listen:<iframe style="border: none" src="//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/17278520/height/45/theme/standard/thumbnail/yes/direction/backward/" height="45" width="100%" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen></iframe><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2021/01/college-course-teaches-students-how-to-be-climate-leaders/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Yale Climate Connections</a>.</em></p>
By Daniel Raichel
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