New England Rain, Snow Contains High Levels of Mercury

New England states have been experiencing high levels of mercury in the rain and snow, reported the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). These levels exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) safety standards for mercury (neurotoxin) in surface water in regards to the health of people, and wild and aquatic life. There are no standards for mercury in rain; however the mercury levels were very high over EPA standards.

A report, "Clean the Rain, Clean the Lakes II," conducted by the NWF, highlights a host of dangers that stem from exposure to mercury. 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.
"This report reveals that rain falling over cities, coasts and even remote parks in the New England states can contain as much as 30 times the EPA's safe level of mercury, which holds extremely serious health implications for both humans and wildlife," said Mark Van Putten, NWF president and chief executive officer.

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. Mercury is related to several effects including subtle but permanent harm to the human neurological system at low levels. If ingested or inhaled at high levels, it can cripple or kill. Also, it has been linked to fetal development harm.

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.

The report recommends a number of specific actions.

* The EPA must require coal fired power plants to control their mercury. The agency is currently in the process of determining whether to regulate such plants.
* The six New England states should commit to a timetable to virtually eliminate mercury emissions in the region by 2010.
* Hospitals, dental offices and other medical facilities should practice what the National Wildlife Federation calls "mercury free medicine" by eliminating mercury use. The NWF also calls on such facilities to stop incinerating their medical wastes, a procedure which can emit a number of toxic substances into the air.

(Source: National Wildlife Federation)

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