Toxic Mercury Found in New England Rain and Snow
WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (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.
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 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.
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 full text of the NWF's report is posted on the group's Web site at http://www.nwf.org.