LETTERS: Concerns beyond the state's borders

(Editor's Note: Marion native and Marion High School graduate Eliza Bennett sent this letter as testimony before the House Energy and Utility Committee in January 2007.)

Chairman Holmes and Honorable Members of the Committee:

My name is Eliza Bennett. I am a first year resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wis. This is the start of what I hope to be a long and rewarding career, caring for women in the reproductive phase of their lives.

A large part of my work is to provide information to pregnant and nursing women about possible hazards to their health and the health of their babies. I have been aware for some time of the growing concern about the toxicity of mercury to human beings.

The soluble nature of airborne mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants returning to earth via rainfall causes the pollution of lakes, rivers, and streams where it can enter the food chain via fish.

Distinct environmental conditions can amplify local concentrations of mercury, leading to "hot spots," where the danger of mercury poisoning would be much higher. As an obstetrician, I am particularly concerned about pregnant women eating Kansas fish tainted with this heavy metal. Pregnant women will likely be unaffected, however, the growing fetus may not go unharmed.

As you know, a fetus relies on the mother as a shield from the world to help protect the developing and growing organs. Mercury poses a particular risk at this very vulnerable time in the life of a developing fetus. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can penetrate the barrier of the placenta and cause a number of untoward consequences during development, resulting in deficits such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, and even at low levels, can cause a reduction in IQ.

The proposed coal-fired power plants at Holcomb could very well be every-increasing dangers to the health of mothers and their children as the years go by, particularly in the higher rainfall areas of Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri that lie in the emission path of west to east. The moratorium proposed in H.B. 2219 will allow some time to study the problem of mercury emissions and develop regulations and standards. The moratorium would open the door to rethinking the use of coal-fired generation and switch the generation method to cleaner technologies such as wind power or coal gasification. At the same time, the moratorium will allow for the development of energy conservation strategies to better use current electrical generation capacity and perhaps eliminate the need for more coal-fired plants.

I believe that it is our job as a responsible society to protect pregnant women from increased exposure to toxins and thereby protect future generations of Kansans. As you consider building any new coal-fired plants, consider what effect it might have on the most valuable resources of this great state — its land and its people. In order to protect the health of Kansans now and in the future, I support the passage of H.B. 2219.

Dr. Eliza Apple Bennett