Mercury Rising by Dena Ventrudo

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical whose effects on the central nervous system are comparable to those of lead, especially for fetuses and very young children whose brains are still developing. Children and fetuses exposed to mercury can suffer brain damage: poor attention span and language development, impaired memory and vision, problems processing information, and impaired fine motor coordination.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in twelve women of childbearing years in the U.S. have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. This means that approximately 300,000 children are born each year with a heightened risk for neurological and developmental problems related to mercury exposure.” New York Public Interest Research Group

MercuryTwo years ago I spoke at a news conference with NYPIRG in upstate New York. I spoke about mercury poisoning and testified that one in eight women of childbearing age had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. There are still a number of unsafe fish being eaten everyday, and still children are being born with mercury related disabilities. These disabilities can range from the previously mentioned and have been linked to handicaps as severe as autism. This is a serious problem that everyone should know about.

According to NYPIRG, New York State had posted health warnings for mercury including 40 bodies of water in 2003, leaving some fish unsafe to consume. These health warnings urge people to avoid or limit consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury.

Under the Clean Air Act*, toxic substances like mercury have to be controlled using maximum control technologies. Two years ago, EPA “estimated that under this standard, power plants could reduce 90 percent of mercury using existing technologies, bringing mercury emissions from 48 tons per year down to roughly 5 tons per year by 2008.

Two years later the EPA’s proposed mercury standards do not begin to meet these goals and are not protective of public health. EPA’s preferred approach rescinds its prior determination that mercury is a toxic pollutant, and proposes a far weaker standard. The proposal allows some plants to avoid reducing mercury by buying credits and trading away emission reductions. In the end, all of EPA’s proposals allow power plants to emit six to seven times more mercury into our airways for a decade longer than what EPA has said was achievable . This is unacceptable, and it shows. Not only are power plants responsible for all of that mercury emission, they are also heavily linked to other severe pollution plights such as global warming. It is all connected.

According to the EPA Fact Sheet of June 2001, mercury exists in a number of inorganic and organic forms in water. Methylmercury, the most common form of organic mercury, quickly enters the aquatic food chain. In most adult fish, 90% to 100% of the mercury is methylmercury. It is found primarily in fish muscle (filets) bound to proteins….Because moisture is lost during cooking, the concentration of mercury after cooking is actually higher than it is in the fresh uncooked fish.

Some fish that you definitely want to avoid or severely limit consumption of is:

· Striped Marlin Blue Marlin

· Swordfish

· Shark

· Atlantic Salmon

· Bluefin Tuna

· White Marlin

· Orange Roughy

· Chilean Seabass

· Grouper

· Atlantic Sturgeon

· Striped Marlin

· Mutton Snapper

· Tilefish

· Red Snapper Rockfish

· Red Snapper

· Monkfish

· Yellowtail Snapper

For a more thorough list, visit http://www.oceansalive.org/eat.cfm?subnav=healthalerts

For more information on mercury poisoning and your marine eco-system please visit the following links:

www.nypirg.org and make your voice heard! http://www.oceansalive.org/home.cfm http://riverkeeper.org/ http://www.clearwater.org/

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* Clean Air Act: http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaain.html

*or for the actual documents (harder to read):

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1993/Ukpga_19930011_en_1.htm

by Dena Ventrudo
Dena Ventrudo is the Assistant Editor of Merlian News. She is a published poet and creative writer. Dena volunteered as an environmentalist with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) for three years serving as an project leader, an intern, and a board representative. She is attending SUNY Purchase College and will be graduating in May 2006 with a BA in Liberal Studies.