The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
GLOBAL REPORT: Mercury Levels in Humans and Fish Regularly Exceed Health Advisory Levels
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 Elliott Negin
On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.
By Tara Lohan
If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.
World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.
By Adrienne L. Hollis
Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.
By Marlene Cimons
Kyle Rosenblad was hiking a steep mountain on the island of Maui in the summer of 2015 when he noticed a ruggedly beautiful tree species scattered around the landscape. Curious, and wondering what they were, he took some photographs and showed them to a friend. They were Bermuda cedars, a species native to the island of Bermuda, first planted on Maui in the early 1900s.
By Grace Francese
You may know that many conventional oat cereals contain troubling amounts of the carcinogenic pesticide glyphosate. But another toxic pesticide may be contaminating your kids' breakfast. A new study by the Organic Center shows that almost 60 percent of the non-organic milk sampled contains residues of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide scientists say is unsafe at any concentration.