Clark ‘scientist-mother’ Stephens urges action against air pollution

What does Clark University Assistant Professor Jennie Stephens have in common with Oscar-nominated actress Natalie Portman?

Stephens, along with five other “scientist mothers,” has joined the actress in urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set the strongest possible standards in limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution.

With Environment America and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the six scientists, who have expertise in a range of disciplines related to climate science and environmental health, released a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson – who is the mother of two sons - asking her to support stringent standards for limiting mercury pollution. Co-signer activist and actress Portman is expecting a child this summer. 

“In our most important role, as mothers, we are concerned by the myriad threats to the health of our children and children around the country posed by unsafe levels of air pollution,” the letter states. “As you work to prepare and finalize limits on air toxics, we urge you to make these new standards as strong as possible to protect children across the country for generations to come.”

Over the next two months, the EPA will draft new rules limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants and large industrial facilities.

“Given recent strong Congressional backlash and attempts to reduce the EPA’s authority to regulate pollution from coal, this is a particularly critical time to let the EPA know that the scientific community is concerned,” said Stephens, who has two daughters. “As a mother as well as a scientist my concerns about the environment, climate change, and public health are strong… and I believe the United States government has a global as well as domestic responsibility to tighten controls on coal-fired power plants.”

Mercury, which is emitted from burning coal, is a potent neurotoxin that is particularly damaging to developing brains. An estimated one in six women of childbearing age in the United States has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk of developmental disorders and learning disabilities should she become pregnant, according to the UCS.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury in the country, the UCS reports. The average coal plant emits 170 tons of mercury annually, as well as 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, and 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The EPA has an opportunity in the coming months to set limits on such dangerous pollutants as mercury. However, the coal and oil industries and their allies in Congress are pushing to weaken these clean air standards.

“The desire to protect the health of our families is universal,” said Courtney Abrams, global warming advocate for Environment America. “The women who signed this letter are among millions of Americans who want cleaner air for their families. The White House and Congress must do everything they can to protect our health by setting strong clean air standards and not caving in to dirty energy lobbyists.”

Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy groups working for a cleaner, greener and healthier future.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading U.S. science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, and also has offices in Berkeley, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Since its founding in 1887, Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has a history of challenging convention. As an innovative liberal arts college and research university, Clark’s world-class faculty lead a community of creative thinkers and passionate doers and offer a range of expertise, particularly in the areas of psychology, geography, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. Clark’s students, faculty and alumni embody the Clark motto: Challenge convention. Change our world.

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