Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

GLOBAL REPORT: Mercury Levels in Humans and Fish Regularly Exceed Health Advisory Levels

International POPs Elimination Network

A new scientific report finds that humans and marine ecosystems around the world are contaminated with mercury and that mercury levels in humans and fish regularly exceed health advisory guidelines. The report, a collaboration between International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), highlights the urgent need for an overall reduction in mercury emissions when government delegates convene next week in Geneva in their final negotiating session to establish an international mercury treaty—the first global treaty on the environment in more than a decade by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The report, Global Mercury Hotspots, “brings together new data on mercury concentrations in fish and human hair samples and identifies, for the first time, a set of global biological hotspots where elevated levels of mercury are sufficient to pose serious threats to both ecosystems and human health,” said David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI’s executive director and chief scientist.

Key findings from the report:

  • Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world.

  • Biological mercury hotspots are globally common and are related to a variety of human activities, such as chlor-alkali facilities, contaminated sites, coal-fired power plants, artisanal small-scale gold mining, mixed-used chemical industry sites and other sources.

  • Fish samples from around the world regularly demonstrate mercury concentrations exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) human health advisory guidelines. In the study, from 43 up to 100 percent of fish samples from nine countries exceeded safe consumption of one fish meal of 170 grams (6 ounces) per month. Mercury concentrations in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that no consumption is recommended.

  • More than 82 percent of human hair samples from eight countries exceeded U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reference dose levels of 1.0 ppm. In Thailand, 20 out of 20 individuals living near an industrial site had unsafe levels; 19 out of 20 Indonesians at a gold mining site exceeded U.S. EPA recommended levels; and 18 out of 20 individuals in Tokyo, Japan had similarly high levels.

Public interest groups such as IPEN are concerned that current proposed treaty measures are not sufficient to prevent continued health impacts from mercury or reduce global levels of mercury in fish. Concluding negotiations on the mercury treaty will take place on Jan. 13 to Jan. 18 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We found that fish and human hair from around the world regularly exceeded health advisory levels,” said Joe DiGangi, senior science and technical advisor with IPEN. “The results demonstrate the need for a mercury treaty that mandates true reductions of mercury emissions—not just to air but to land and water as well. Mercury is a large and serious global threat to human health that requires a robust and ambitious global response.”

There are also growing objections to naming the treaty, the Minamata Convention, as proposed by a former Japanese prime minister, and holding the treaty signing ceremony in Minamata, Japan, a site where mercury contamination has devastated the community’s human and animal population for decades. As currently proposed, the treaty does not contain any obligations to identify or clean up contaminated sites, does not require polluters to pay for health damages or environmental clean up, or provide for protection from similar disasters occurring anywhere in the world. Varying objections to the name have been raised by some government delegates, organizations representing victims of the tragedy, and the Minamata City Council.

Fish samples from around the world regularly demonstrate mercury concentrations exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency human health advisory guidelines. In the study, from 43 up to 100 percent of fish samples from nine countries exceeded safe consumption of one fish meal of 170 grams (6 ounces) per month. Mercury concentrations in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that no consumption is recommended.

Human activities such as burning coal, mining and refining metal ores, and the manufacture of cement release mercury into the environment. Large intentional uses of mercury today include small—scale gold mining and vinyl chloride monomer production. Coal combustion is also a significant contributor to atmospheric mercury emissions and subsequent global deposition. Much of the mercury produced and used eventually volatizes into the atmosphere and travels around the globe, eventually falling back to the earth or ocean.

When mercury falls into the ocean and waterways, microorganisms transform it into an especially toxic form of mercury, methylmercury, which then becomes part of the food chain. Methylmercury is readily absorbed by the body and people are exposed primarily through the consumption of fish. Many national and international health organizations recognize mercury in fish as a threat to human health, livelihoods and the environment.

The dangers of mercury poisoning have been known for centuries. Exposure to high levels of mercury can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Harmful effects are also passed from a mother to her developing fetus and can result in brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and an inability to speak.

 Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Samantha Hepburn

In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.

Read More Show Less
Meadow Lake wind farm in Indiana. Anthony / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.

Read More Show Less
Andrey Nikitin / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst

Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.

Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.

Read More Show Less
A bald eagle chick inside a nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife), as Newsweek reported.
Read More Show Less
The office of Rover.com sits empty with employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 in Seattle, Washington. John Moore / Getty Images

The office may never look the same again. And the investment it will take to protect employees may force many companies to go completely remote. That's after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations for how workers can return to the office safely.

Read More Show Less
Frederic Edwin Church's The Icebergs reveal their danger as a crush vessel is in the foreground of an iceberg strewn sea, 1860. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Scientists and art historians are studying art for signs of climate change and to better understand the ways Western culture's relationship to nature has been altered by it, according to the BBC.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Esben Østergaard, co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots, takes a swab in the World's First Automatic Swab Robot, developed with Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at The University of Southern Denmark. The University of Southern Denmark

By Richard Connor

The University of Southern Denmark on Wednesday announced that its researchers have developed the world's first fully automatic robot capable of carrying out throat swabs for COVID-19.

Read More Show Less