The problem with mercuryHigh levels of mercury can cause severe neurological and developmental problems, even death.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Mercury enters the air when coal and gasoline are burned. Other mercury comes when products that contain mercury are burned in trash incinerators and from taconite-processing plants. Some mercury comes from natural sources such as volcanoes and evaporation from oceans. Mercury can come from local and regional sources and some can come from as far away as Asia as it blows around Earth.
Some of that airborne mercury falls in rain and snow and some is transformed by bacteria into a toxic form in lakes, rivers and wetlands.
In water, toxic mercury can build up in plants and small organisms and accumulate in high levels in fish and animals that eat fish, including people. High levels of mercury can cause severe neurological and developmental problems, even death. Experts say unborn and newborn babies especially are at risk for developmental deformities.
Fish-consumption advisories have been issued for many Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes, warning people — especially women and children — to abstain from or limit eating fish to avoid mercury contamination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that one in 12 U.S. women of child-bearing age has mercury levels considered unsafe for fetal development. That puts about 320,000 babies at risk annually. A 2012 report found one in 10 newborn babies near Minnesota’s North Shore have mercury levels in their blood considered unsafe by federal standards.