ercury in our Food
Finally, Some Good News:
EPA’s New Mercury Rule
Mercury increases in concentration as it
moves up the food chain as wildlife, fish,
and people consume contaminated food.
For example, the amount of mercury in
fish tissue can be more than a million times
higher than in surrounding water.
In the Chesapeake watershed, mercury is
responsible for more waters listed with fish
consumption advisories than any other
pollutant. Practical, cost-effective solutions
can protect both public health and the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay.
Mercury in the Environment
Mercury is a highly toxic chemical, especially to the developing nervous system, and can
cause IQ deficits in children. For this reason,
fetuses, infants, children, and women of
childbearing age are at greatest risk.
Though mercury is a naturally occurring
element, two-thirds of the mercury moving through the environment is a product
of human activities. In many cases, contaminated waters are in areas considered
“pristine” with very little human activity
or industry. So, where is the mercury
MERCURY TO THE DINNER TABLE
Mercury in fish harvested from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is a real
concern. An accumulation of toxic mercury in humans can cause damage to the
brain, kidney, and lungs.
One answer is: the air. According to EPA,
coal-fired power plants are the largest
source of mercury air emissions in the
U.S., accounting for more than 40 percent
of the pollution. Mercury is found in coal.
And when coal is burned to make electricity, mercury flows out of the smokestacks of
power plants and other coal-burning
sources and is washed by rain into the
Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.
Air pollution, primarily from power
plants, is the main source of the
mercury that contaminates fish in
the Bay watershed.
Mercury travels through
the atmosphere and
returns to the earth
The Good News
In December last year, EPA Administrator
Lisa Jackson unveiled the nation’s first air-pollution standards for mercury and other
chemicals emitted from power plants. The
regulations were mandated by Congress in
1990, but—until now—have faced roadblocks from litigation and lobbying.
The Mercury and Air Toxic Standards will
require power plants to cut mercury emissions by at least 90 percent. CBF and others
sued EPA to get these rules in place. This is
good news for us, the fish we eat, and the air
we breathe. EPA predicts 11,000 fewer premature deaths per year and the potential for
46,000 short-term construction jobs and
8,000 new permanent jobs in the utility
industry associated with the installation and
maintenance of pollution controls.
JILL BEVIER ALLEN/CBF STAFF
Although nearly all fish and shellfish contain
trace amounts of mercury, they also contain
high-quality protein and omega- 3 fatty
acids. So, make fish part of your healthy
diet, but be conscious of your risk factors,
avoid fish with higher mercury levels (like
swordfish and shark), and check local advi-
sories on fish you catch in local waters.