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High mercury levels found in rain

29th May 2003


WASHINGTON, DC, - Rain falling over 12 eastern states has been found to contain high levels of mercury that exceed federal safe standards for people and wildlife, according to a new National Wildlife Federation report.
The paper, titled "Cycle of Harm: Mercury's Pathway from Rain to Fish in the Environment," found that mercury contamination levels in rain and snow falling over Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas consistently exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's safe standards for mercury in surface water.

"We usually think of rain as pure and clean," said Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation. "But this report reveals that the rain falling over these states contains ominous levels of mercury and threatens the health of people and wildlife."

Mercury attacks the brain and nervous system and can be dangerous to sport fishermen, subsistence anglers, Native Americans and anyone who eats freshwater fish. Health officials in 44 states have issued advisories warning people to restrict or entirely avoid eating fish caught in thousands of inland lakes and streams.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 women of childbearing age has blood mercury levels that exceed the federal safe level for protection of the fetus. This translates into approximately 320,000 babies born annually in the United States at risk for neuro developmental delays.

In wildlife, mercury inhibits reproduction among species such as rainbow trout, zebra fish, mallard and American black ducks, loons and terns, otters and mink.

Air pollution is considered the major cause of mercury in lakes and streams. Eighty five percent of all mercury pollution is created by coal fired power plants and municipal medical waste incinerators that send mercury into the air, where it falls back to Earth as rain or snow, according to the Mercury Policy Project, a nongovernmental organization formed in 1998 to raise awareness about the threat of mercury contamination.

In addition to calling for nationwide controls on mercury emissions from coal fired power plants and the elimination of mercury in products and manufacturing, the report recommends specific actions each state can take to safeguard the health of people and wildlife.

Click below to download the report from which this article was compiled

Cycle of harm: Mercury’s Pathway from Rain to Fish in the Environment - Kuiken T. And Stadler F. - 2nd May 2003 (pdf - 479KB)