Evangelicals: Mercury Pollution Merits the Concern of Pro-life Republicans

Christians from the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) are urging pro-life Republicans to protect the unborn and uphold regulations on mercury pollution, which can cause permanent brain damage and development challenges in unborn babies.

The EEN, a creation care group, launched a radio campaign Sept. 14 in the districts of three senior-ranking House Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee: Ed Whitfield (Ky.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Joe Barton (Texas).

The ad, featuring evangelical and Green Mama website author Tracey Bianchi, stated, "I believe that every life is a precious gift from God, and I expect members of Congress who claim that they are pro-life to use their power to protect life, especially the unborn."

She continued, "I can't understand why [the] congressman ... is trying to stop the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) from enforcing its plans specifically meant to protect the unborn by cleaning up dangerous mercury pollution."

Sean Brown, a spokesman from Barton's office, told The Christian Post that the Texas congressman finds the ads "insulting," and noted that Barton has worked hard to protect America's unborn from abortion.

EEN President and CEO Mitch Hescox acknowledged that Barton and the other two congressmen are evangelicals who maintain strong pro-life records on abortion. He said that he is also against abortion and has marched in the annual March for Life walk in Washington, D.C. But Hescox contends that Congress should also be concerned about mothers who unknowingly poison their preborn children by ingesting mercury-tainted fish.

Barton, Whitfield and Upton have all voted to delay a proposed bill providing additional protections against mercury pollution.

Hescox said mercury poisoning in the womb seriously inhibits a child's life once he or she is born. Noting Scripture, he said God wants all His children to live an abundant life and anything that hinders that life is wrong.

Dr. Michael F. Richman, a diplomat in the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, wrote in a WebMD article that mercury can come from coal-fired power plants, waste incinerators and mining operations. Once airborne, Richman wrote, the pollutants fall to the ground in rain or snow and get into the water supply, where bacteria converts them to methyl mercury, which is toxic to humans.

Severe neurological damage can occur in children born to mothers with toxic mercury exposure, Richman wrote. Children with mercury poisoning, he noted, have problems with thinking, language, memory, motor skills, perception and behavior.

"How many hundreds and thousands of children have been denied an abundant life because we have not stood up?" Hescox lamented. "I think that's a moral tragedy."

Brown says the additional mercury protections do not add up after factoring in economic costs. Proponents of lower mercury emissions standards have not been able to provide exact data stating the number of people affected by mercury poisoning, he said.

"You don't find someone who lives near a power plant that has been poisoned by mercury," Brown noted as an example.

Instead, he said, there is conflicting testimony from researchers.

Richman cites a 1997 study that led researchers, who followed 7-year-old children in the Faeroe Islands whose mothers consumed seafood, to conclude that relatively low concentrations of mercury can keep a child's brain from developing normally.

However, a nine-year study published in 2003 found that children born to mothers who ate a lot of fish showed no signs of mercury poisoning.

In the island Republic of Seychelles, Dr. Gary J. Myers told WebMD he and his colleagues "studied ... people who ate ocean fish every day that have the same amounts of mercury as commercial fish. They have mercury levels six to eight times higher than the average U.S. resident. Yet over nine years and evaluations with 50 endpoints, we find no pattern of adverse effects on these children."

Myers said the children in the 1997 Faeroe Island study, as well as those in a similar New Zealand study, were poisoned because the mothers ate big fish such as whale and shark during their pregnancies.

Shark contains 10 times more mercury than the average ocean fish, Myers said. In addition to shark, larger and older fish tend to have higher doses of mercury. Smaller fish have relatively lower mercury concentrations.

Dr. Constantine G. Lyketsos said "The Seychelles data are very reassuring that concerns from earlier studies of mercury in fish eaten by pregnant women don't translate into effects on kids."

With conflicting studies and no data, Brown said Rep. Barton does not believe the health risks merit "handcuffing" American businesses with additional regulation. Brown said if additional mercury regulations were passed, local businesses "would have to shut down. It would be a huge strain on the economy."

EEN head Hescox has been lobbying for increased mercury protections since 2005 and believes that the regulations can provide the energy industry an economic benefit.

"I know for us that this issue ... will protect human health and create jobs," he said.

Hescox is supported by a host of Christian leaders including Rick Joyner of Morningstar Ministries, and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The EEN's radio campaign will continue through the week.

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