By Donald R. Serfass
COMMUNITY NEWS: Tamaqua, Panther Valley
The Times News, © 2004

October 5, 2004

A sampling of Tamaqua area residents will find out if mercury in their bodies has accumulated at a dangerous level.

The testing, coordinated by Greenpeace and the Army for a Clean Environment (ACE), is being done as part of a national undertaking to determine whether mercury exposure levels in the U. S. are exceeding standards set to protect public health.

Mercury is a toxic metal that can damage the developing brain and may be linked to the risk of heart attack and sudden death.

Elevated levels of mercury might not be harmful to everyone, but women of childbearing age are especially at risk because developing fetuses are vulnerable to mercury contamination, according to reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control estimate that one out of every six children born in America has unsafe levels of mercury in their body.

“Exposure to mercury in the womb is particularly dangerous and can affect the development of memory, attention, and language skills. This damage can permanently affect their quality of life, academic success and economic prospects in life. We need presidential leadership to eliminate this preventable poisoning of our children and their families,” explained Casey Harrell, campaigner for a Greenpeace program called Clean Energy Now!

The local portion of the study was conducted at Al Barnisky’s Barber Shop, which opened its doors on Monday, normally a scheduled day off, in order to collect two dozen hair samples.

The samples will be forwarded to the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, for analyses

‘Mercury emissions from coal power plants are dangerous and toxic to our environment and the fish we eat,” said Harrell.

“The American people have a right to know what is in their bodies and they have the right to know why their President is not protecting their health from this dangerous poison.”

Dr. Dante Picciano, Esq., of the 800-member ACE group, spoke of the dangers of environmental polluntants.

“We need to stop the dirty energy industry and the state and federal governments from polluting our air, water and food, passing the health risks on to the most vulnerable among us: children and pregnant women.”

The global Clean Energy Now! campaign is committed to ending the addiction to fossil fuels by promoting the increased use of clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency as solutions to the world’s growing power needs.

The campaign has been successful by working with local and state governments, students and other groups to stop dirty energy and to increase investment in clean energy like wind and solar.

The Tamaqua/Panther Valley-based ACE group is a nonprofit, grassroots, 501(c)(3) organization formed, in part, to expose the danger of using river sludge and coal combustion waste (fly ash) in mine reclamation projects.

The topic continues to be a hot button issue in eastern Pennsylvania where Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. is looking to dump the mixture into massive Springdale Pit.

Talk of environmental dangers is expected to surface again on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at Quakake Volunteer Fire Co., at 7 p.m., when the state holds a public meeting to release its findings of a local study prompted after reports of various types of cancer began popping up among residents of Ben Titus Road.

The area is located directly downhill from a former Superfund site that many say was never adequately remediated.