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Mercury in EVERY fish in EVERY stream tested

August 26th, 2009 · 3 Comments

A guest post from mwmwm … Want to talk about “clean coal“?

The USGS released a recently released an underreported report  that is quite stunning in its implications.

The major findings from USGS Mercury in Stream Ecosystem studies of 291 stream systems across the US are that methymercury (the form easiest for aquatic life to acquire and concentrate) is pretty much everywhere, even in pristine areas. Every stream, every fish, every watershed.

The culprit? Atmospheric mercury.

The cause? Coal plants and other industry spewing mercury and other heavy metals into the air, which dissolves in slightly acidic wetlands and forests into methylmercury.

The problem? Methylmercury is not only very toxic, it probably makes us stupid.

Methylmercury is an accumulative neurotoxin. That means it’s really bad for the brain, and doesn’t leave the body.

MeHg is highly toxic. Exposure to MeHg can result in adverse effects in several organ systems throughout the life span of humans and animals. There are extensive data on the effects of MeHg on the development of the brain (neurodevelopmental effects) in humans and animals…. Chronic, low-dose prenatal MeHg exposure from maternal consumption of fish has been associated with more subtle end points of neurotoxicity in children. Those end points include poor performance on neurobehavioral tests, particularly on tests of attention, fine-motor function, language, visual-spatial abilities (e.g., drawing), and verbal memory. (Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury, National Academy of Sciences)

Methylmercury is bioaccumulative. It is “biomagnified” by the food chain. That means that when algae absorb it, it gets passed on and retained by invertebrates that eat the algae, then passed on and retained by the fish that eat the invertebrates, then passed on and retained by the creatures (like humans, but also otters, birds, predator fish, and more) that eat the fish. And it builds up in our bodies and brains just like it does in fish.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that is present in fish across the globe at levels that threaten human and wildlife health. In the US, 48 of 50 States have fish consumption advisories for mercury ( — from the USGS handout (PDF).

How did we get here? Coal-powered power plants produce 40% of mercury emissions, the largest single source; an Alabama coal plant released nearly a ton of mercury into the atmosphere in 2007, with another fifty coal plants producing another twenty tons. (Mercury Pollution Rising)

“There are no experts who deny that mercury emissions are causing some damage to developing brains and causing drops in IQ… Furthermore, recent research has specifically documented the type of damage that low levels of mercury exposure cause to developing neurons. This damage occurs even at levels of mercury exposure that would be unlikely to cause harm in an adult; but at levels that a significant portion of the child-bearing population have circulating in their bodies.”(Mercury Pollution Rising)

Some have argued that the Roman Empire fell because of the elite’s use of lead pipes, lead-lined urns for wine, and the consequent rise in mad-hatter neurological problems — lead also makes us stupid, you see.

So here we are, merrily pumping mercury (and other heavy metals) into our atmosphere, which deposits on wetland and forest watersheds that are slightly acidic, which produces easily-ingested methylmercury, which moves up the food chain, causing damage to all brain-driven critters including ourselves.

Worst of all, methylmercury is just a microcosm of what we’re doing with other toxins: flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, and plenty of other building toxins.

At what point do we wake up and say, “wait a minute, we’re toxifying our children and our future” and start mobilizing for rapid change away from coal, away from toxicity, away from unregulated saturation via industrial waste?

Or have we already made ourselves too stupid to wake up?

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Tags: coal · emissions

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Twitted by ClimaTweets // Aug 27, 2009 at 3:07 am

    […] This post was Twitted by ClimaTweets […]

  • 2 The Mercury Free Partnership » Blog Archive » Latest Mercury News: August 27, 2009 // Aug 27, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    […] Mercury in EVERY fish in EVERY stream tested August 26th, 2009 The USGS released a recently released an underreported report  that is quite stunning in its implications. The major findings from USGS Mercury in Stream Ecosystem studies of 291 stream systems across the US are that methymercury (the form easiest for aquatic life to acquire and concentrate) is pretty much everywhere, even in pristine areas. Every stream, every fish, every watershed. The culprit? Atmospheric mercury. […]

  • 3 MercuryFreePartnership // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:17 pm


    Communities and Individuals Form Coalition Focused on Mercury Reduction within
    Broad Environmental Policy

    September 9, 2009—The Mercury Free Partnership has developed a draft of legislation which would reduce 90% of harmful mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest emitter of mercury in the United States. This draft, called the Mercury Reduction Act of 2009, would target coal-fired plants which emit more than 100,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year. In fact, the EPA estimates that about 250 pounds of mercury are currently pumped out of U.S. coal-fired plants into the atmosphere every single day, contaminating our nation’s air and water supplies. Contamination not only poses a multitude of health risks to extremely vulnerable citizens, but it also significantly affects the economic interests of related industries. This is an important initiative because so much attention has been focused on global climate change; what has to be realized is that immediate mercury reduction alone would significantly enhance environmental and health benefits in our world. The purpose of this draft is to initiate dialogue with all concerned stakeholders in order to develop a finalized piece of legislation.
    The Mercury Free Partnership believes that the new administration will be taking the necessary steps to curb various industrial emissions and ensure that citizens are protected from many harmful chemicals produced by the market. To make certain that mercury emissions are not swept under the rug in this crucial time period, the Mercury Free Partnership will focus on engaging Congress to work on delivering sensible mercury reduction legislation in the coming session. This can be done with new green technologies that will save lives, create jobs and build momentum for comprehensive environmental change.
    The Proposed Legislative Principles of the Mercury Reduction Act of 2009
    The key elements of the proposal are as follows:
    • Phased reductions that are achievable by utilities versus one hard standard.
    • 80% of capture inlet mercury by 2012 (a level that can be met with current technology).
    • 90% of capture inlet mercury by 2015.
    • Flexible monitoring systems.
    • Excess emissions penalties of $50,000 for each pound of mercury emitted over the limit.
    These points show how the Mercury Reduction Act will deal directly with the problem of mercury, and will do so in an immediate manner. According to Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference, more focus is needed on particular legislation: “While we recognize the desire to also tackle the broader air issues, we fear that those issues will get bogged down in partisan wrangling, or most likely litigation, and we will end up with years more of pollution impacting our community.” The Mercury Reduction Act will serve as interim bridge to current legislation, providing one national standard for mercury reduction, while providing measureable, achievable reductions of mercury from coal-fired plants. Most importantly, the MRA provides a significant environmental benefit in an area not addressed by larger climate change legislation moving through Congress: mercury reduction.
    Mercury emissions are a major health issue with serious financial impact, but technology exists today that can clean up to 90% of airborne mercury emissions from coal-fired plants.
    There are many effective technologies to reduce mercury. One such technology is called Activated Carbon Injection (ACI). It has been found to reduce 90% of the mercury emissions from waste incinerators. A small amount of activated carbon is injected into the plant ductwork where it captures the gaseous mercury and then is removed along with the plant’s fly ash in particulate collectors. This highly effective environmental solution is very cost-effective, costing only about $1 per month per residential customer for 90% reductions according to a detailed 2004 study by the National Wildlife Federation, and significant cost reductions have been made since then.
    Recent evaluations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have confirmed that the technology to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by up to 90% percent exists. In testimony submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, John B. Stephenson, Director of Natural Resources & Environment at the GAO, explains how sorbent injection systems have demonstrated the ability to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants anywhere from 80 to 90%.
    How to Support the Mercury Free Partnership and the Mercury Reduction Act of 2009
    The Mercury Free Partnership is looking to partner with a broad base of individuals and organizations, as no one organization or individual can tackle the daunting task of environmental/health protection alone. It has already received the support of a broad cross-section of environmental, community and science-based groups, including a majority of utilities in key coal-fired utility states. Indications of support have been shown from the EPA, the Obama administration, as well as a large number of congressional members from key regions of the U.S. The Mercury Free Partnership has the specialized and localized knowledge needed to fully inform state and national policymakers as they consider impending legislation.
    The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and more specifically the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, oversees such legislation. In addition to contacting the Mercury Free Partnership, you can contact the office of Rick Boucher (VA-9) directly at:
    Congressman Rick Boucher
    2187 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    For more information on this issue, please visit
    The Mercury Free Partnership is a group of organizations, non-profits, and green businesses that are dedicated to enacting sensible and comprehensive Mercury reduction legislation in the 2009 U.S. Congressional session. Working collectively with all stakeholders, the utility industry, medical and advocacy groups and clean coal industries we believe we can achieve our goal of removing significant amounts of Mercury from the environment while maintaining essential energy and financial areas of our economy.
    Contact: Jason Sabo, Mercury Free Partnership, 877-603-2337 or