by LJ Hodek-Creapeau, Circkles Managing Editor
We’ve published some of this before, but recent new findings show an increased risk of mercury poisoning in our day to day lives. This makes it crucial that we learn how to reduce our risk and alleviate the buildup in our bodies.
Since we are exposed to mercury far more than we should be in everyday life, and recent surprising findings by the NFA show an alarming amount in our environment due to pollution, we should know what will help reduce and eliminate it from our bodies.
“Dome is one of the last untouched islands on Lake George,” says Henry Caldwell, chairman of the Dome Island Committee, which oversees The Nature Conservancy preserve. “It has never been inhabited, and there is no indication it has ever been logged.”
In 2006, however, researchers discovered that some of the island’s songbirds—including red-eyed vireos, black-capped chickadees and song sparrows—have among the highest mercury levels of any upland forest songbirds in the Northeast. That startling news was followed in 2011 by research showing the island’s spiders also had elevated mercury levels.
“We were very surprised,” says Caldwell, whose family has lived in the area for generations.
Dome Island highlights a continuing and growing threat to wildlife: airborne mercury pollution. Coal-fired power plants are the leading sources of mercury in the United States, belching more than 50 tons of the neurotoxin annually. Much of the mercury falls near the source, but some flows into the atmosphere and drifts long distances, falling back to Earth in rain, snow and as dry particulates. This problem of “atmospheric deposition” of mercury is a global dilemma but is particularly acute in the Northeast, which lies downwind of the coal-burning epicenters of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.
Now, as the United States prepares to implement long-overdue regulations on coal-fired power plants, a flurry of new science shows that atmospheric deposition of mercury is affecting more lands and waters, and harming more wildlife, than previously known. “It has become clear in recent years that no corner of the food web is untouched by mercury,” says Joe Mendelson, NWF’s director of climate and energy policy.
Enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in late 2011, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule requires power plants to reduce their mercury output by 90 percent through 2016. “This is the biggest step the country has ever taken to control our mercury problems,” Mendelson says. “We are finally bringing our power plants into the modern age.”
“Progress on mercury reduction would not have occurred without the many NWF members who took action to help move this issue through some very stormy political waters and who mobilized last year against congressional attacks designed to stop the new rules,” says Jeremy Symons, NWF’s senior vice president for conservation and education.
“Regulations work,” adds Rutgers professor Joanna Burger. Since 1971, Burger has been studying heavy metal contamination in common terns in Barneget Bay, New Jersey. Levels of lead and cadmium have declined dramatically in the birds due to federal rules on those toxics, but “mercury levels in the birds have remained the same.”
U.S. regulations alone, however, will not solve the problem. Coal is the cheap fuel of choice for much of the developing world. China is erecting new coal power plants at a rapid pace. Some of the mercury emitted in Asia rises into the atmosphere and feeds a growing global mercury cloud, depositing the neurotoxin in locations where it never was found in the past. Hoping to stem this problem, the United Nations Environment Programme will attempt to ratify an international mercury treaty in 2013.
Mercury, alas, is a coal problem. Burning it fuels a host of environmental ills, from climate change to acid rain, smog and habitat loss, at great cost to human health and wildlife. “The big question is: How do we transition from coal to a power system that utilizes cleaner, renewable sources and technologies?” Mendelson asks. “We have the technology. We need to implement it.” Only then will the Dome Island songbirds be safe.
What You Can Do to Reduce Your Mercury Risk.
Don’t eat fish. Most of us are now aware that fish contain high levels of mercury. Some fish are more contaminated than others; namely any fish that is large and has been living a long time is thus more contaminated that a species of fish that does not live as long such as Tilapia. Tilapia is low in mercury because it matures very quickly and is eaten within a very short amount of time.
There are certain foods that will help the body to chelate (remove) heavy metals such as mercury. It is a very good idea to detox yourself on a regular basis for all the harmful metals and other toxins in our environment that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Some foods known to help the body detox mercury are apples, cilantro, brewer’s yeast and B vitamins. It is also a very good idea that while you are detoxing from heavy metals that you protect your liver by also taking milk thistle herb while detoxing. This is because the detox process causes toxins to be dumped into your bloodstream so your body can remove them via the kidneys and liver. For more information on the correct way to detox, see our article archives or do a search for detoxing.