Blog Action Day: A few drops of mercury can spoil your lunch
A few measly drops of mercury can contaminate a twenty-acre lake and the fish that happen to reside there, and you can thank coal-fired plants for that largesse.
A Sierra Club article by Dashka Slater, “This Much Mercury… How the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich,” explains a situation in which people who think they are eating healthy are in fact poisoning themselves.
It’s a lengthy, compelling and well-researched article, well worth a read on Blog Action Day.
Here are some snippets:
- “While there is always going to be some mercury in the environment—it occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and can be released into the air during forest fires or volcanic eruptions—70 percent of what we’re exposed to comes from human activities, and most of that comes from burning coal.”
- “‘Ninety-five to 100 percent of the methylmercury that we acquire in our bodies comes from the consumption of seafood,’ explains Stony Brook University professor Nicholas Fisher, director of the Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research, which oversees the (newly endowed) Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Education. (Seafood, in this case, includes fish from lakes and rivers.) When EPA researchers tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish at 500 U.S. lakes and reservoirs in 2009, they found mercury in each and every one; close to half of the fish had levels so high they were unsafe to eat. Another 2009 study, by the U.S. Geological Survey, found mercury-contaminated fish in each of the 291 streams and rivers tested. Mercury pollution causes U.S. waters to be closed to fishing more often than does any other source of contamination.”
- “In March, after more than 20 years of delay, the EPA proposed a new federal air pollution standard for power plant emissions of mercury and other toxics. The new rule, which was vigorously opposed by the coal industry, will require power plants to use ‘maximum achievable control technology’ to filter mercury from their smokestacks by 2014. The result of a 2008 lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, the rule is expected to cost industry more than $10 billion to implement.”
- “Many of the same coal-industry supporters who question the science of climate change also deny that mercury harms public health. ‘To actually cause poisoning or a premature death you have to get a large concentration of mercury into the body,’ insisted Texas representative Joe Barton at a congressional hearing on the new EPA pollution rules earlier this year. ‘I’m not a medical doctor, but my hypothesis is that’s not going to happen!’”
Well Joe as with most instances when you open your mouth – your hypothesis is wrong.
The article says that while the average American eats less than one serving of fish per week, many eat far more. “One researcher extrapolated from existing data that there are up to 184,000 people in the United States with blood mercury levels above 58 mcg/L, a level at which they would likely show adverse symptoms.
“The symptoms of mercury toxicity are fairly well established. They include lack of balance and coordination, trouble concentrating, loss of fine motor skills, tremors, muscle weakness, memory problems, slurred speech, an awkward gait, hearing loss, hair loss, insomnia, tingling in the limbs, and loss of peripheral vision. Long-term exposure may also increase the risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and reduce the concentration and mobility of sperm.
“What’s unclear is how much mercury it takes to make you sick. Nearly everyone feels fine when the level of mercury in their blood is below 5.8 mcg/L, which the EPA says is safe for pregnant women. And most—although not all—exhibit symptoms at 100 mcg/L. But some people show symptoms with levels as low as 7 mcg/L, and others feel right as rain despite being above 100 mcg/L.
“One thing that isn’t in question, though, is that developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury. Two out of three large-scale studies have found that children born with it in their system have trouble with coordination, concentration, language, and memory—and continue to have the same deficits many years later.”
So eat fish but choose wisely.