Industrial Mercury Is Falling Out Of The Sky
By James Donahue
Toxic levels of mercury are now being found in the rain and snow that fall out of our skies,
scientists warn. It is affecting the health of all living creatures.
The National Wildlife Federation reported in 2003 that rain falling in over 12 eastern
states was found to contain mercury levels that exceed federal safe standards for people an animals. The states named in that
year's report included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania,
South Carolina and Texas. The problem may be even more severe now.
The mercury contamination is found primarily in one major food source . . . fish. Much
of it was noticed first in fresh water species, but more recently the high mercury contamination also is being found in certain
sea foods, expecially the shell fish and tuna.
It is believed that the biggest polluter is coal-fired power plants that now pepper the
planet. Another major mercury polluter that few people think about are municipal medical waste incinerators that also spew
mercury into the air. These two sources are said to account for 85 percent of all mercury pollution in the air.
How severe is the threat to human health?
In America one-in-six children born each year have been found exposed to mercury levels
high enough to put them at risk for learning disabilities, motor skill impairment and short-term memory loss. That is because
mercury attacks the brain. If it is happening in the United States, you can be sure similar mercury exposures are present
in newborn babies all over the world.
The Centers for Disease Control an Prevention says that one in 12 women of childbearing
age is shown to have blood mercury levels that exceed the federal safe level for protection of the fetus. And this translates
into about 320,000 babies born each year in the U.S. that are at risk.
Mercury also inhibits reproduction among wildlife. Hardest hit are not only fresh water
fish but birds an animals that feed on fish. Health officials in 44 states have issued warnings for people to restrict or
entirely avoid eating fish caught in thousands of inland lakes and streams.
One major impact on public health has been the tuna industry, which remains among the most
popular foods on grocery store shelves. The FDA in 2000 issued an advisory warning women not to eat a lot of canned tuna during
pregnancy because of the high levels of mercury found in it.. A joint advisory on this topic was issued in 2004 by both the
FDA and the EPA.
The State of California considers this problem so serious, in 2003 the state Attorney General's
office filed suit to force supermarkets, restaurants and tuna companies to warn customers that tuna, swordfish and shark sold
in their markets contain mercury.
Just how dangerous is the mercury in our food chain?
One of the most dramatic effects was seen in fishermen and their families in Japanese villages
on Minamata Bay during the 1950s. There, the Japanese people have a diet that is primary of seafood. But they were showing
signs of brain damage and some people were fatally stricken with disease and seizures. Investigation revealed the locally
caught fish showing high levels of methylmercury from a local chemical plant that was discharging organic mercury directly
into the bay. The mercury was being absorbed by the fish and then consumed by the people.
All of this is just one more case against the continued burning of carbon fuels, especially
coal, to meet the growing energy demands of an overpopulated world.