Toxic Level Of Mercury
Found In New England
Rain And Snow
WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - Rain and snow falling on the New England states has been found to contain levels of mercury that far exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for people, aquatic life and wildlife in surface waters, concludes a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
The report, "Clean the Rain, Clean the Lakes II," highlights a host of dangers that stem from exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin.
"We usually think of rain as pure and clean, and that's the way it should be, said NWF president and CEO Mark Van Putten. "But this report reveals that rain falling over cities, coasts and even remote parks in the New England states can contain as much as 30 times the EPA's safe level of mercury, which holds extremely serious health implications for both humans and wildlife."
Mercury in rain comes from mercury pollution of the air. The leading sources of mercury emissions in the New England region include incinerators, coal and oil fired power plants, and industrial sources that produce chlorine and caustic soda.
The report chronicles mercury contamination levels found in rain and snow falling over a host of New England states, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. While no standards for mercury in rain currently exist, scientists found that mercury levels in precipitation frequently exceeded the surface water safety standard set by the EPA.
Mercury levels in rain falling on Maine's Acadia National Park were up to four times higher than the EPA's surface water standard, the report found.
Precipitation falling on the communities of Quabbin, Massascusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Underhill, Vermont was also found to contain as much as four times the concentration of mercury allowable under the EPA's surface water standard.
The EPA's surface water standard for mercury was developed for the Great Lakes region, and is not a legal requirement for New England's waterways.
The impacts of rain contaminated with mercury can be enormous. Even at low exposure levels, mercury can cause subtle but permanent harm to the human neurological system. If ingested or inhaled at high levels, it can cripple or kill.
A recent report issued by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 60,000 newborns each year may suffer developmental harm due to fetal mercury exposure, primarily from their mothers' consumption of mercury contaminated fish.
Currently, every one of the New England States has issued formal advisories warning people to restrict or avoid consuming certain species of fish taken from local lakes, streams and costal waters. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut have statewide fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.
Mercury can pose grave threats to the existence of wildlife. The substance is a reproductive hazard for many birds and fish, including rainbow trout, zebra fish, mallard and American black ducks, loons and terns.
Providence, Rhode Island is subject to rain containing more than four times the amount of mercury allowed under the EPA's surface water standard. (Photo by Richard Benjamin courtesy Office of Providence Mayor Victor Cianci Jr.) In the New England, the sources of airborne mercury include incinerators, coal and oil fired power plants, and industries making chlorine and caustic soda.
The National Wildlife Federation is calling on those industries to make drastic cuts in their emissions. If the industries refuse to do so, then state, local and national governments must take meaningful steps to force such emissions reductions, the report urges.
"With so much at stake for both people and wildlife, decisive action is needed now to limit mercury emissions," said Andy Buchsbaum, the NWF's water quality program manager. "Once mercury pollution goes up into the atmosphere, rain carries it right back down into the water humans and wildlife depend on."
The report recommends that a number of specific actions be taken. Among them:
* The EPA must require coal fired power plants to control their mercury. The agency is currently in the process of determining whether to regulate such plants. * The six New England states should commit to a timetable to virtually eliminate mercury emissions in the region by 2010. * Hospitals, dental offices and other medical facilities should practice what the National Wildlife Federation calls "mercury free medicine" by eliminating mercury use. The NWF also calls on such facilities to stop incinerating their medical wastes, a procedure which can emit a number of toxic substances into the air.

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