Rochester gets its hair tested


Ignessa and her mom Elena get their hair tested at Lasata Salon in Rochester

The women lined up at Lasata Salon today were not waiting for ordinary haircuts — they were attending an event sponsored by the Sierra Club North Star Chapter to test their bodies for mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can put developing fetuses at risk of developmental disorders and learning disabilities. At least 1 in 12 and as many as one in six American women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk.

Coal-fired power plants emit toxic mercury into our air, where it rains down into our rivers and streams and finally makes its way into the human body via contaminated fish. Local residents have long been concerned Minnesota coal-fired plants, including the Silver Lake plant in Rochester, contribute toxic pollution to the air in our community.

A recent report by Environment America analyzing data from the U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory found that power plants in Minnesota emitted 1,664 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009.  In total, coal-fired in the U.S. power plants emitted 138,259 pounds of mercury in 2009, alone.

 “The good news is that there is something we can do about toxic mercury pollution,” said Jessica Tatro, Sierra Club Field Organizer. “The Environmental Protection Agency can help clean up our air and water and protect our kids’ health by enacting protections for life-threatening mercury and other air pollution.”

In March 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose an upgrade to the Clean Air Act that would limit Americans’ exposure to mercury and other toxins that are linked to cancer, mutations, neurological damage and other serious health problems.

Citizens across the nation are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to enact a strong Air Toxics safeguard to protect public health will save lives, prevent disease and avoid hospitalizations, while creating new jobs installing air pollution control equipment. 

“We need to address the dangers coming from coal plants now, and the EPA needs to protect us from pollution” said Tatro. 

The Sierra Club is sponsoring the testing project, and similar events are taking place in more than 20 cities across the nation, in March and April.  The tests involve women and men snipping a small sample of hair and sending it to an academic laboratory, the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service in Brunswick, GA, for processing. Mercury is excreted through hair, so a hair sample shows the amount of mercury that has been in a person’s body over a few months.  The UGA lab will send participants their private test results in approximately 4 weeks. Participants can also volunteer to add their testing data anonymously to a UGA research study.

If you missed the testing event in Rochester you can come to our event next week in Minneapolis and get tested, or you can download a DIY testing brochure at



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