Thirty women came to the Paris Parker Aveda Salon during lunch, not for a stylish hair cut, but because they were concerned about their risk of mercury poisoning. A simple hair-test can tell you if your body has dangerous levels of mercury. The Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Aveda sponsored this free event out of concern for how mercury pollution from coal-powered plants affects women and children. One in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. already has enough mercury in her body to put a fetus at risk of learning disabilities and developmental problems. Currently Entergy Louisiana is working to obtain permits to repower their Little Gypsy natural gas power plant in Saint Charles Parish to coal-fired power. Coal-fired plants are one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution in the country. Local residents are concerned that the proposed Little Gypsy coal repowering project will expose them to dirtier air and serious health problems. “There are cleaner alternatives to coal,” says Jordan Macha, Regional Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s New Orleans office, “and by looking at our alternatives we can improve public health, boost the economy, and protect the environment. Entergy’s current proposal puts our environment and the health of our community at risk.” Mercury is linked to learning disabilities and other developmental problems in young children. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the atmosphere and falls back to earth in rain, running into our lakes, rivers, and streams. There it is converted to the toxic form of mercury – methylmercury – which accumulates in fish and shellfish. When contaminated fish are eaten it is absorbed by the body. Currently, 41 of Louisiana’s waterways, including the Gulf of Mexico, have a mercury-in-fish advisory. “We all recognize outer beauty, but often we forget to take care of what’s happening on the inside,” says Debra Neill, CEO of Neill Corporation, owner of the Paris Parker Salon and Spa group. “We applaud the Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club and their partners in their quest to help raise awareness of the mercury issue to women in Louisiana.” Stylists with the Paris Parker Aveda Salon took small samples of hair from participants, which were then sent to an academic laboratory for testing. The data will be anonymously included in a University of North Carolina research study, which has the largest sample size of any study to date, on the effects of mercury in the U.S. population. Notes Casey DeMoss Roberts, Special Projects Coordinator with the Gulf Restoration Network, “Together we are working to ensure that the Little Gypsy plant and other coal plants across the state reduce their mercury pollution and update their pollution controls to comply with new, more protective health standards.” Read more about the event in the Times-Picayune here. Jordan Macha, Regional Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s New Orleans office

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