Hollywood Hair-Testing Event Makes News in L.A.
On April 13, the Sierra Club's Los Angeles Beyond Coal Campaign hosted a mercury hair-testing event in a Hollywood hair salon that was featured on ABC News' afternoon and evening telecasts. Watch the 2-minute segment here.
ABC Channel 7 is the most-watched news program in Los Angeles, averaging about 200,000 viewers. Club organizer Chrissy Scarborough took the lead on planning and coordinating the event.
"I'm always curious about mercury levels," participant Annie Phyo told ABC7 correspondent Denise Dador. "I know that it's in our environment, it can be contaminated in our food sources."
Women who came to the Primrose Organics Salon had 30 strands of their hair clipped to test for mercury in their bodies. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as many as one in 12 American women have enough mercury in their bodies to put a baby at risk-meaning some 300,000 infants may be at increased risk of in-utero mercury exposure.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest domestic source of federally unregulated mercury pollution in the United States. "We're hoping that this test will help highlight how coal's pollution affects people right here in Los Angeles," Sierra Club spokesman David Graham-Caso told ABC News.
Although Los Angeles receives nearly 40 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power, the nearest coal power plants are in Utah and Arizona. But as Graham-Caso explained, pollution from those plants affects not only nearby communities, but residents of California as well.
"Coal-fired power plants emit toxic clouds of pollution with a lot of different pollutants which then get rained down in the rivers and streams and end up in our fish, in the ecosystem, and on our dinner tables here in Los Angeles," he said.
"Our fisheries are basically mercury time bombs," said conservation organizer Jasmin Vargas, who helped organize the event with the rest of the L.A. Beyond Coal staff.
But not all fish present a high-mercury risk. "We advise women to eat oily fish like salmon, halibut, herring, and catfish," said Dr. Antonio Zamorano, a family-medicine expert at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.
The Sierra Club has been hosting mercury hair-testing events around the country while it pushes to move the country away from coal power. Below, Stephanie Osborne outside her salon on the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation in Nevada, where the Club held a hair-testing event on April 3. The Club is partnering with the Moapa community in challenging the dirty Reid Gardner coal plant and attempting to bring solar power to their reservation.
On April 6, the Club tested 40 people for mercury at the Lasata Salon in Rochester, Minnesota, and 36 people at the Boomswagger Salon in Missoula, Montana. The event received extensive media coverage, including the "Montana Today" morning show, which interviewed Sierra Club organizer Bob Clark. On April 6 and April 8, the Club held two mercury hair testing events on opposite ends of New Jersey, in Montclair and Ocean City.
The last week of March, events were held in Chicago; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Tampa; Oklahoma City; Lexington, Kentucky; Dearborn, Michigan; Concord, New Hampshire; and Asheville, North Carolina.