All people, but especially women and children, are advised to significantly limit their consumption of fish, like tuna, swordfish, and shark, because of mercury contamination (CCE's Seafood Guide). Mercury (Hg) is a bioaccumulative persistent toxic heavy metal classified as a Hazardous Air Pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Mercury pollution can adversely impact reproductive, behavioral, developmental, neurological, and physiological functions of fish, wildlife, and humans.
What is the source of mercury pollution?
Mercury, like many of Earth’s elements, cycles through the natural environment. However, mercury in the environment is believed to have tripled as a result of human activities, such as mining, smelting, burning coal, or disposing of mercury-containing products. Mercury is deposited locally, regionally, and globally, largely from unregulated coal-fired power plant emissions.
The Common Loon (Gavia immer) illustrates the hazards of elevated mercury levels on long-term species survival. Affecting their nervous system; high mercury blood levels cause lethargy and behavioral abnormalities that make loons less successful at rearing young.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity. Photo Credit USFWS
As larger fish eat contaminated smaller fish, mercury toxicity compounds up the food chain. Consuming mercury-tainted fish is the primary route of exposure for fish-eating fish, birds, and mammals including mink, otter and humans. High levels of mercury are found in fish-eating wildlife and recently elevated mercury levels have been documented in forest dwelling songbirds, including Bicknell’s Thrush (atharus bicknelli).
Strong Federal Rules will reduce mercury exposure in NY and CT
Significant levels of mercury and other toxins are found in water bodies throughout out New York State and Connecticut, although much of this pollution comes from out of state sources. In order to protect public health and the environment from mercury exposure in NY and CT, strong rules are needed at the federal level.
Strong federal rules to reduce mercury contamination are necessary to:
- Protect women and children’s health. A pregnant woman passes the toxin on to her fetus or infant, which in turn can impair her baby’s ability to walk, talk, and learn. Children and infants are more susceptible to mercury contamination because their bodies are smaller and still developing.
- Prevent the continued poisoning of our food supply. Consuming fish is an inexpensive and nutritious component to any diet, unless those fish are contaminated. Nearly all shellfish and finfish contain mercury, demonstrating how widespread mercury contamination is throughout the environment Furthermore, methyl mercury, the particularly toxic form of mercury, accumulates in the tissue of large predator fish, like tuna, swordfish, and shark. Children eat more tuna fish than other species of fish!
The New York State Department of Health has issued fish advisories warning women and children to either eliminate or significantly limit their consumption of fish due to unsafe mercury levels in 63 different bodies of water. For specific advisories, please visit:
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has issued fish advisories for 12 freshwater systems due to unsafe mercury levels. For specific advisories, please view:
Upgrading power plants can reduce mercury emissions by 91% in just four years.
Victory! Federal Government Finalizes Landmark Rule to Slash Harmful Mercury Emissions
On December 16, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its final rule to slash mercury emissions from fossil fueled power plants throughout the nation by 91%! , Almost half of all fossil-fueled-power plants in the U.S. currently lack advanced pollution control equipment. New emissions standards set numerical limitations for mercury, hydrogen chloride, and other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). These standards require fossil fuel-burning power plants to install the best available technology to reduce mercury and other air toxics, protect our environment, and improve public health. The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent on reducing pollution, Americans will see $5-$13 in health benefits!
Requiring power plants to significantly reduce mercury emissions provides tremendous public health and environmental benefits in New York, Connecticut, and throughout the nation. EPA’s newly adopted emissions standards will:
- Reduce mercury emissions from power plants 91% in four years.
- Significantly reduce emissions of arsenic, chromium, and nickel, and acid gases, including hydrogen chloride (HCl) and hydrogen fluoride (HF). These hazardous air pollutants are known or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.
- Annually avoid up to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, and 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits.
- Provide estimated health benefits of up to $140 billion due to reduced exposure to fine particulates.
- Avoid 850,000 days when Americans miss work due to illness.
- Provide employment by supporting both short-term construction jobs and long-term utility jobs totaling between 28,000 and 158,000.
CCE generated more than 41,000 signatures and 14,000 handwritten letters from New York and Connecticut residents in support of this historic rule. CCE sends a special thanks to our members for taking action!
Proposed Federal Bill threatens EPA’s authority to protect our children from toxic Mercury pollution
On September 23, 2011, the House of Representatives passed the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401). Disguised as an accountability measure, this act would cripple the EPA's ability to protect our air through the Clean Air Act. If enacted, the bill could delay and/or inhibit the EPA from implementing their proposed mercury rule, as well as many other rules designed to protect air quality. Now that this legislation has passed the US House, we need the US Senate to reject this ill-conceived attack on clean air. Contact your Congressional representatives today, and tell them clean air is a necessity, not a luxury!
Tell Congress we deserve clean air - Stop the Clean Air Train Wreck!
What you can do:
Email your representative in the U.S. House and both of your U.S. senators. Tell them you oppose the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401).
- Your name and where you live.
- You support EPA’s proposed rule to slash mercury pollution.
- You oppose the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401)
And, please remember to drop us a quick email letting us know you took action.
EPA Rule on Mercury and Air Toxics, December 16, 2011
CCE comments on EPA's Proposed Air Pollution Control Standards, August 4, 2011
CCE comments on the Northeast Regional Mercury TMDL, May 21, 2007
CCE press statement bout New York State mercury regulations, October 10, 2006
In addition to Mercury exposure due to power plant emissions, there are many sources of mercury exposure to which children are especially susceptible. Since 2003, CCE has been a part of The Partnership to Reduce Mercury in Schools, a program of New York State Department of
Parents, Educators and School District Employees: Learn more about mercury risks and how to minimize them for your children and students
Updated by lburch 1/17/12