New Scientific Study Reveals High Mercury In New York
New Scientific Study Reveals High Mercury In New YorkMarch 09, 2005Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
More than 50 scientists analyzed new data from thousands of locations and discovered mercury in some unexpected places. They determined that mercury loading is higher than previously reported and identified a major biological hotspot of mercury in New York’s Adirondack mountains. For the first time, they also found mercury in mountain-dwelling songbirds.
The research was coordinated by the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine. The findings will be published in 21 papers on mercury in a special double edition of the journal Ecotoxicology. A new BRI report entitled “Mercury Connections” distills the 21 papers for non-scientists.
According to Dr. Charles Driscoll, Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University and co-author of several papers in the special issue of Ecotoxicology, “When we started this research we expected mercury to be widespread, but we were surprised at how high mercury levels are in some areas of the Adirondacks.” These high levels are documented in a new map of biological mercury hotspots that represent large areas where mercury is high in several animals. In the Adirondacks, high mercury is reported in yellow perch, brook trout, loon, otter and mink within the “bio-hotspot” region.
The report also provides the first account of elevated mercury in forest-dwelling songbirds with particularly high levels in the mountains of the Northeast. The discovery of mercury in non-aquatic birds is a wake-up call that mercury emissions are even polluting remote forests. “Until now, we thought that mercury could only be found in its toxic form in water environments. Our discovery of mercury in forest songbirds turns that conventional wisdom on its head. We don’t know exactly why and how mercury gets from the air into these birds, but we plan to find out,” said Dr. David Evers, executive director of the BioDiversity Research Institute.
Women of childbearing age, children under 12, and people who regularly eat contaminated fish are the most likely to be at risk from mercury. Fish consumption advisories have been posted by the EPA in 45 states due to mercury. This new research shows that the average mercury levels in fish across the region exceed the EPA standard in 10 of 13 target species, including bass, walleye, lake trout and brook trout.
“This report confirms our growing fears that mercury is affecting far more wildlife species than previously thought,” says Catherine Bowes, Northeast Program Manager for National Wildlife Federation. “From loons to salamanders and otters to songbirds, mercury is finding its way into the food web and accumulating at high levels. Wildlife are truly on the front lines of the mercury contamination problem, and this new research makes a compelling case for reducing mercury pollution today.”
Much of the mercury pollution in the Northeast originates from airborne emissions from coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers and waste incinerators. Water-borne sources include landfills, wastewater treatment plants and some manufacturing facilities. Dr. Evers added, “This research shows the mercury problem is greater than we thought and that we need to take action to protect our fish and wildlife resources.”