January 11, 2013

Gorham scientists find widespread mercury contamination

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Among the highlights of the report:

  • Mercury contamination exists virtually everywhere in marine and freshwater systems around the world.
  • Biological mercury “hot spots” are common globally and are related to a variety of human activities, including chlorine production, contaminated sites, coal-fired power plants, small-scale gold mining and mixed-used chemical industry sites.
  • Fish samples from around the world regularly demonstrate mercury concentrations exceeding EPA human health advisory guidelines.

In the study, 40 to 100 percent of fish samples from nine countries revealed mercury contamination severe enough to warn consumers to limit consumption to one fish meal of six ounces per month. Mercury concentrations in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that people are advised to eat no fish from the tested waters.

More than 82 percent of human hair samples from eight countries exceeded EPA reference dose levels of 1.0 parts per million. 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 EPA recommended levels; and 18 out of 20 individuals in Tokyo had similarly high levels.

Studies have shown exposure to high levels of mercury can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Harmful effects also can be passed from a pregnant woman to her developing fetus and can result in brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and an inability to speak.


Staff Writer North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

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