Thirty academic scientists, medical doctors and consumer advocates wrote to FDA and EPA last Friday, urging them to strengthen the Federal fish consumption advisory for mercury and also to do a better job of warning consumers. “Recent research shows that both beneficial effects of fish nutrients and harm from mercury exposure occur in a baby’s developing brain when a pregnant woman eats ordinary amounts of fish,” said Edward Groth III, PhD, a Mercury Policy Project science consultant. “There is no evidence of a threshold for the harmful effects of mercury, and even the amount in a single can of tuna should probably be avoided.”
A new study finds that tuna accounts for over one-third of total methlymercury exposure from seafood consumption which was a key finding in the April 2010 edition of Environmental Research by Dr. Edward Groth III, an MPP consultant. “Canned tuna is the number one fish consumed in the U.S. today,” said MPP director Bender. “It is also the number one mercury exposure risk.” The study found that two-thirds of the seafood and nine of the 11 most consumed fish are low in mercury, as one can see in this chart. In addition, new research appearing in Biology Letters today “…provides insights into healthier consumption, using “….DNA as a tool to uncover patterns of species-specific bioaccumulation.”
A joint research project from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Golansk University of Technology, and Swedish Environmental Research Institute have quantified the cost of mercury emissions in their report, Economic Benefits from Decreased Mercury Emissions: Projections for 2020. If current trends of mercury emissions continue, they estimate the worldwide societal damages will be $6.6 billion. On the other hand, if extended emission control and maximum feasible technological reduction are put in place, emissions could drop as much as 60% and save $2.2 billion.
Mercury Products Campaign’s report Turning Up the Heat exposes the dismal results of the manufacturers’ voluntary mercury thermostat collection program (TRC). TRC has collected less than 5% of the approximately 100 tons of mercury from mercury thermostats removed from service. The report recommends that states step in and adopt strong laws, with financial incentives and performance standards for recycling mercury thermostats, to drastically improve the TRC program and prevent mercury pollution.
Climate change may be magnifying the mercury content of the polar bears’ diet. A recently study, “Stable Isotope Food-web Analysis and Mercury Biomagnification in Polar Bears” shows that polar bears eat from two distinct food webs, one the ice algae-based web and the other ocean’s phytoplankton-based food web. As climate change shrinks the polar ice, polar bears face increased dependency on their other food source, the mercury-laden marine fish and animals.
The EPA’s new report, National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue, found mercury in all fish from 500 lakes sampled randomly across the continental U.S. The data also showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceed EPA’s human health screening levels at 49% of the lakes nationwide. The EPA is taking steps to limit mercury emissions from power plants within the United States. However, Mercury Policy Project’s director Michael Bender points out, “Two-thirds of the mercury that’s rained on Vermont and the U.S. comes from Asia and elsewhere outside the U.S.” Therefore, the international pollution control treaty in the works could have an even greater impact on the U.S.
NECN reports Vermont Lakes Show Effects of Pollution.
A joint scientific effort by the National Environmental Research Institute in Denmark, the Geological Survey of Canada, and Environment Canada, answers the question of how much mercury concentrations in the Arctic is natural and how much is man-made. Through the tests of Arctic marine wildlife teeth, hair and feathers, and comparisons with historical samples, they found that mercury levels rose in the mid-19th century and accelerated in the 20th century. The sharp increase corresponds to the industrial revolution. Although there is no major mercury source in the region, mercury pollution is brought to the area through the atmosphere, ocean currents, and rivers. The study found that the average man-made contribution to current mercury concentrations is 92.4%. The significant increase in mercury concentrations in marine foodwebs in the Arctic have reached dangerous levels where negative biological consequences are expected. People living in these areas and eating at the top of this food chain may see neurological development disorders in their children.
Multiple studies released in August 2009 provide evidence of rising mercury contamination of the environment, fish and people. The evidence that mercury levels have risen in people in the past several years is presented in a report released by UCLA, Assessment of chronic mercury exposure within the U.S. population, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2006. While inorganic mercury was found in the blood of 2% of women in 1999, it was found in 30% of the women by 2006. Another U.S. study, Mercury in Fish, Bed Sediment, and Water from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005, found mercury in all the sampled fish, with 27% exceeding levels safe for human consumption. A third study indicates that mercury levels in fish were elevated in pristine forested or woody-wetlands in the eastern and southeastern U.S. Duke University environmental engineers explain this phenomenon in a study of their own: How Mercury Becomes Toxic in the Environment.
Recent analysis of ocean water samples across the Pacific point to Asian coal plants as the likely source of dramatic increases total mercury levels in the North Pacific Ocean over the last 20 years. If present trends continue, the U.S. Geological Survey report projects a doubling of oceanic mercury concentrations by the year 2050. Oceanic mercury is converted to MethylMercury by algae, and then bioaccumulates up the food chain as algae is eaten by fish. Fish harvested from the Pacific Ocean are a major contributor to human MethylMercury exposure, which is why scientists are focusing on the important health and ecological concern of the source of the oceanic mercury. For more inforamtion see highlights on the USGS website.
The Garfield Foundation conducted an assessment of its Mercury Source Reduction (MSR) program, including MPP activities, in order to assess the impact of GF’s MSR work in the international arena. The report proclaims success: “Scarcely five years later, there is virtually no important aspect of global mercury policy that has not been shaped or influenced by key NGOs… these NGOs have achieved results even beyond their own expectations.”