Mercury Awareness Week highlights dangers of potent neurotoxin

Coaltuna

The Sierra Club North Star Chapter is recognizing Mercury Awareness Week December 5th through December 11th. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and exposure is linked to developmental disorders and learning disabilities.

“The people of Minnesota are highly vulnerable to toxic mercury pollution,” said Jessica Tatro of the Sierra Club. “Exposure to too much mercury during critical periods of brain development can contribute to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ.”

The number one source of mercury pollution in the United States is coal fired power plants, which in the year 2009 alone emitted more than 130,000 pound of the toxin. Mercury makes its way from coal- fired power plants into the human body via contaminated fish. It only takes a teaspoon of mercury to contaminate a 20 acre lake.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, at least 1 in 12, and as many as 1 in 6, American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put their babies at risk.

The Minnesota Department of Health has issued safe eating guidelines for fish in order to help residents stay protected from mercury contamination. According to the guidelines, for women of child bearing age or children under 15 years of age should limit their consumption of canned “white” tuna, Minnesota caught walleye shorter than 20 inches, Chilean seabass, grouper, halibut, marlin, orange roughy and tuna steak to one meal per month. Full guidelines are online at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/fish/

“Mercury in fish is the main reason people need to be careful about how much and which kinds of fish they eat” said Pat McCann, research scientist and fish advisory program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health. “Most people, including pregnant women, can benefit from including more fish that are low in mercury in their diet. Eating fish contributes to healthy development of eyes and brain in the growing fetus.”

There are currently no national limits on mercury pollution from power plants. The EPA proposed new federal mercury protection this March that would reduce mercury in the air and water by over 90%. These clean air safeguards could prevent 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and over 12,000 hospital and emergency room visits, each year.

More than 800,000 Americans have already demonstrated their support for these mercury protections. We’re just waiting for President Obama to take them across the finish line.

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