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Seafood, Pregnancy and What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
Has anyone else been following Environmental Health News’ series Pollution, Poverty, People of Color as if it were the new Mad Men? No? Personally I can’t get enough. I especially can’t get one article from last month out of my head. It was about how contaminated fish warnings fail to reach the people most at risk.
It’s probably stuck in my mind because I’m pregnant. As I (s l o w l y) make my way around my city day in and day out, I have a hard time not screaming as I watch other pregnant moms eating things I know they should not be eating, and doing things I know they should not be doing (what is with everyone waddling into nail salons and willingly breathing that unsafe-for-anyone air?). Do they not know? Or are they just ignoring the warnings?
But fish really surprised me. Even conventional OBs who aren’t particularly attuned to environmental health issues tend to warn their patients not to eat certain contaminated fish that are known to contain mercury, PCBs and more. If doctors fail to issue this warning, most baby books and pregnancy websites pick up their slack. So what’s Environmental Health News talking about?
Well, seafood isn’t cut and dry. It’s nuanced, complicated. As I wrote in the Conscious Kitchen, “rockfish” can mean more than sixty different kinds of fish on the Pacific West Coast. There are eighty-two difference species of groundfish, and more than forty different species can be called snapper. Which means that warnings about big predator fish like shark, tuna, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel containing elevated levels of mercury might make it to most pregnant people, but the subtler stuff just doesn’t.
People—pregnant or not—are less aware of advisories about local waterways—fresh and saltwater alike—and which seafood from them might harbor industrial chemicals and pesticides. As the article I cannot get out of my mind states, these are linked to cancer, reproductive effects and various other health problems. Let’s be honest, these present risks for everyone—not just pregnant women and children.
Local officials do issue warnings, but too often residents either aren’t getting them or chose to ignore them. Sometimes they know about the warnings but need a cheap source of protein. Or they come from fishing communities and are inclined to eat what they’ve always eaten, whatever the health advisories say. There are even people interviewed in the article that say if the water looks clean, they assume the fish is safe to eat.
Except it’s not safe. And so the advisories need to be louder and more clear, and there needs to be more education, including about how the contaminants made their way into the air we breathe and eventually the waters we fish. No one should be eating unsafe food, and knowing that it happens more frequently in low-income, minority or indigenous communities is the kind of thing that keeps you (or is it just me?) up at night. As the article clearly explains, this is an environmental justice issue. If inadequate risk warnings aren’t reaching these communities, states need to try harder. Advisories need to take language barriers into account and in general be a lot simpler for anyone to understand and heed.
Here’s hoping Dr. Jeanne Conry, president-elect for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agrees. She’s the winner of the 2012 U.S. EPA Environmental Health Heroes of the Pacific Southwest in the category “Children’s Environmental Health” and could really help spread the word. Hey, Dr. Conry, if you need help, we’d love to join the crusade.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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