1 in 10 babies in Lake Superior region born with high levels of mercury

by Audra Huffmeyer


Last week the Minnesota Department of Health released a study that concluded one in ten infants from the North Shore are born with high levels of mercury in their blood (articles in Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune). Over the course of two years, the MN Department of Health randomly sampled 1,465 newborns from Lake Superior regions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Shockingly, the tests yielded different results for each state: 10% of the infants sampled from Minnesota were born with unhealthy mercury levels in their body whereas only 3% in Wisconsin and zero newborns in Michigan had unhealthy mercury levels. The study also revealed that infants born in the summer months had higher levels of mercury in their system than infants born in other months. Researchers believe that this trend appeared because people consume more fish in the summer months. There was no correlation between infant gender and levels of mercury.


According to the EPA, unhealthy levels of mercury start at 5.8 millionths of a gram per liter of blood. Unhealthy levels of mercury in newborns and infants cause a variety of issues that include birth defects, detrimental developmental problems, learning disabilities, lower IQs, blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy.

Thankfully, help is on its way. The Environmental Protection Agency will publish their Mercury and Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants on February 16, 2012. The EPA is targeting power plants because coal fired power plants are the largest contributor of mercury pollution in the US. After these standards are in place, the EPA projects a whopping 90% decrease in mercury emissions by power plants. 

Once implemented, the EPA also projects great strides in protection of public health. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent thousands of health issues each year including: up to 11,000 premature deaths, 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 130,000 asthma attacks.

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