Missing Ms. Congleton

Johanna Congleton, our well-loved and respected employee, is leaving Los
Angeles this April to pursue a Masters of Science in Public Health degree at
Tulane University. Johanna’s work over the past three years has vastly enhanced our health and toxics program. We wish her well in her new life in New Orleans. Nonetheless she will be deeply missed.

Johanna took PSR-LA’s Healthcare Without Harm program to new heights, winning multiple EPA grants for collaborative pollution prevention programs with the City of Los Angeles and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. Through her efforts, more than thirty community clinics now have brand new, mercury-free sphygmomanometers and other medical equipment. The equipment donations were accompanied by inservice trainings on mercury exposure prevention. PSR doctors Anne O’Meara, Leonard Fisher and Nancy Gibbs participated in these educational programs. In sum, the program has been responsible for removing over 300 pounds of mercury from the waste stream and educating hundreds of health professionals on mercury exposure.

Johanna also produced patient literature on mercury exposure translated into Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean and Japanese. The Cambodian government is now using Johannas pamphlet.

With Johanna’s help PSR-LA has been ahead of the curve on mercury. At
even low levels of exposure mercury can cause neurological impairment and lead to learning disabilities and vision problems. The Food and Drug Administration formally announced this month that pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of childbearing should avoid eating
more than 6 oz of canned albacore tuna per week — which has three times
the amount of mercury as other varieties. EPA scientists now say that annually some 630,000 US newborns have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

Despite this problem the Bush Administration is attempting to weaken
the EPA’s mercury emission reduction plans.The former rules required coalfired powerplants to reduce mercuryemissions 90% by 2008 – using widely available smoke stack cleaning technology. The new proposal would achieve a paltry 27% reduction by 2007.

Johanna also worked to reduce the use of medical equipment made of
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalate plastics. Last year she persuaded the
California Association of Neonatologists to seek the elimination of phthalate-contaminating medical devices used in neonatal intensive care units. And she
helped community residents in Santa Clarita close a nearby PVC plant operated by Keysor-Century.

Johanna’s contributions to PSR could fill this newsletter. Her decision to return to school is fueled by her desire to be a scientist in the public interest. She intends to synthesize her academic pursuits with her passion for social and environmental justice. She will continue her relationship with PSR and also work with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights to address the devastating health impacts of chemical production in Louisiana.

We loved working with Johanna and remember when she first arrived from
San Francisco. She held that cockamamie Bay Area prejudice that Los
Angeles is filled with superficial people. Her first week at the office she admonished us for buying Starbucks coffee and marveled at the number of surgically enhanced women on Third Street Promenade. We wanted show Johanna that Los Angeles was more than just Hollywood. Knowing that Johanna was a vegetarian, we treated her to lunch at Real Food Daily, an amazing organic restaurant where you actually feel lighter and healthier after you eat. Feeling healthy and happy that Spring day in 2001, we left the restaurant spying actor David Duchovny also dining at the restaurant. What happened next still makes us laugh. Johanna Congleton, the cool hipster child, fresh from San Francisco, went into a state of absolute apoplexy right there on the sidewalk. Apparently she really liked David Duchovny.
This superficial big bad town will be diminished by her absence.

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