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HOMEMEDICINEMedical News Comentaries

Environmental Issues

Published on November 6, 2009, Last modified on December 10, 2016

China has rejected a claim by the U.S. government that
air-borne mercury pollution from Chinese power plants and
factories is affecting the United States. An official with the
Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration
called the allegation “entirely groundless.”
[1]

Mercury can travel great distances in the atmosphere before it is eventually deposited back to the earth in rainfall or in dry gaseous forms. Thus, mercury is a global problem that knows no national or continental boundaries. The Chinese are in denial as are most officials in anyway attached to the established economic order that pollutes the environment. China is expanding its economy quickly and even more quickly it is expanding its coal burning activities with coal that has more mercury in it than the coal mined in the US.

It is estimated that the United States presently accounts for 3 to 5 percent
of total global mercury air emissions, whereas Asian countries are
estimated to contribute about one-half of the human-made air emissions.

In December 2000, the EPA issued a finding requiring the maximum amount of technically achievable reduction in mercury. This was expected to result in a 90 percent mercury reduction by 2007. But instead of the country going in that direction the EPA actually downgraded mercury emissions — particularly mercury emissions from the utility industry — by taking it out of the “hazardous pollutant” category. But if mercury is not a hazardous pollutant nothing is.

Something is terribly wrong with the United States federal government and other governments around the world who continue to condone the widespread exposure of people to thousands of tons of mercury. This tonnage is coming from thousands of point sources all over the globe. An example is the Eastern Oregon cement plant that releases more toxic mercury into the air than any other source in the state actually emits far more mercury than it had reported to authorities. The figures make the Ash Grove Cement plant in Durkee the third largest source of airborne mercury in the nation in 2004, the last year with national statistics available. The only larger sources were a California cement plant and a Nevada gold mine.

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Nevada mines have chronically underreported their output of mercury that is believed to float into nearby states. “It continues to be a significant public health threat,” said Justin Hayes, of the Idaho Conservation League. People from Utah and their Idaho neighbors worry that unregulated mercury from the Nevada mines has wound up in the air and eventually in water and wildlife. Now, nine Idaho water bodies have fish consumption advisories, and Utah has three for fish and a blanket warning against eating two species of Great Salt Lake ducks because of mercury. Some of the highest environmental mercury levels ever detected have been found in recent years in Great Salt Lake.

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In Pennsylvania, over 9,000 pounds of mercury is released into the air each year from sources such as power plants, municipal waste incinerators, chemical plants, and other manufacturing facilities. By far, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury air emissions in Pennsylvania—responsible for 83% percent of mercury released in the state in 2002. In fact, Pennsylvania is ranked third in the nation for the most mercury emitted by power plants.

Mercury never breaks down into another element; it always remains as mercury. Mercury is a volatile, heavy metal, and, as such, can be re-emitted into the atmosphere from land and water surfaces repeatedly after its initial release into the environment. Estimates of the magnitude of re-emission are very difficult to quantify. But there is no disputing that re-emission is a major source of total modern-day mercury emissions. Consequently, much of the mercury circulating through today’s environment is mercury that was released decades or centuries ago, when mercury was commonly used in many industrial, commercial, and residential products and processes.

Rain falling in Cleveland contains mercury levels up to 31 times higher than the mercury levels EPA considers safe in the waters of the Great Lakes, jeopardizing the health of people and wildlife, according to a new report issued today by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The average levels observed were 8 times the EPA standard – the highest average level NWF has observed anywhere in the Midwest. “These results completely reverse what we think about rain,” said Zoe Lipman, of NWF’s Great Lakes Office. “The monitoring we’ve done in Cleveland shows levels of mercury in rain that far exceed what EPA considers to be safe in the waters of Lake Erie. So instead of cleaning Lake Erie, the rain is contaminating it.”[2]

Because of its unique physical properties,
mercury can cycle between land, air and water.

After a study in the Faroe Islands showed that children exposed to mercury in the womb have memory, attention and language problems at age seven, regulatory authorities in the US and UK advised pregnant and nursing mothers not to eat large predatory fish such as tuna, shark and king mackerel. Now a study of villagers in Brazil suggests that adults may be at risk too. “Adults may be just as sensitive to mercury as children,” claims Ellen Silbergeld at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Her team studied 52 men and 77 women living in fishing villages downstream of gold mines. Much of the mercury used to extract the gold ends up in rivers and in fish. “They act almost literally as a sponge,” says Silbergeld. [3]

The researchers tested the villagers’ neurological abilities by asking them, for instance, to remember a story and thread beads onto a piece of string. The higher the levels of methyl mercury in the villagers’ hair- a measure of recent exposure- the greater the deficits in memory and motor skills. Exposure levels were not particularly high though. Hair concentrations in the villagers averaged 4 micrograms of mercury per gram of hair. This is just a tenth of the level considered dangerous for adults by the World Health Organization, and not much higher than that found in many countries. In the US and Japan, for instance, the average mercury concentration in hair is around 1 and 2 micrograms per gram respectively.

Children’s systems are under a broad mercury attack
from each source and type of mercury. The age when exposed, the
mode of contamination, and each person’s metabolism and
biological defenses combine setting the stage for different pathologies.

According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) about 100 million Americans, more than one-third of the population, suffer from some form of chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart and kidney disease or arthritis. Of course, according to health care officials the rising tide of mercury has nothing to do with any of this. Many of these people are suffering from chemical poisoning with mercury poisoning taking the lead in breaking through peoples’ biological defenses but medical organizations prefer explanations other than the real ones. Their favorite explanation, besides blaming the present poor condition of things on our genes, is to plead ignorance. They just do not know what is causing the epidemics in autism and diabetes for instance. It’s all a great mystery to them so there is really very little doctors can do to help us.

Mercury pollution specifically is the principle threat that, similar to
radioactive substances after an atomic war, is penetrating through everything.
In fact, the FDA itself says, “Mercury is everywhere!”
[4]

Mercury has spread out into the atmosphere and into the oceans where it gains strength and toxicity through the process of methylation. Radioactivity tends, with the passing of many years, to lower in toxicity but mercury runs up the hill to more toxic levels with the help of fish, mammals and bacteria. Mercury bio-accumulates and under goes bio-magnification. The term bioaccumulation refers to the net accumulation over time of metals within an organism from both biotic (other organisms) and abiotic (soil, air, and water) sources.

The term bio-magnification refers to the progressive build up of some heavy metals (and some other persistent substances) by successive trophic levels – meaning that it relates to the concentration ratio in a tissue of a predator organism as compared to that in its prey. According to biologist Dr. Sandra Steingrabera, “top predatory fish, like a tuna, can easily have sequestered in its flesh methylmercury levels that are a million times higher than the water it swam in.”

In the next ten years we will pollute the world with approximately another sixty to ninety thousand tons of mercury after already adding over 600 thousand tons during the past century.

One estimate of the total annual global mercury input to the
atmosphere from all sources including natural, anthropogenic,
and oceanic emissions in 1995 was 5,500 tons.
[5]
US Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental mercury levels have been increasing dramatically and are now present “all over the globe at levels that adversely affect humans and wildlife. Even regions with no significant mercury releases, such as the Arctic, are adversely affected due to the transcontinental and global transport of mercury,” reports the United Nations Environment Programme. (UNEP)[6]

Dr. Masazumi Harada, renowned Japanese neurologist, known for his work with residents of Minamata Bay in Japan, where heavy industries dumped mercury into the water and contaminated the fish supply, causing more than 100 people to die from neurological disorders, again is sounding a mercury alarm reporting that aboriginal bands in northern Ontario are experiencing an increase in mercury symptoms. Having visited the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemong reserves in October, 2004 Harada said that residents’ symptoms from long-term exposure, such as impaired motor skills and fatigue, are increasing.[7]

Tomorrow we will wake up to a world with 15 to 20 tons more of it, and considering a ton is a million grams and a gram could potentially kill a human being if vaporized directly into the lungs, it is not too hard to see that an invisible cloud of mercury radiation is blanketing and contaminating the earth and effecting the most vulnerable part of our race, our children.

[3] Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source, vol 2, paper 8.

[4] http://www.fda.gov/fdac/reprints/mercury.html Last visited November 27, 2004 Mercury in Fish. This article originally appeared in the September 1994 issue of FDA Consumer and contains revisions made in May 1995.

[5] EPA. Mercury Report to Congress. http://www.weblakes.com/Mercury/mercury_report.html

[7] Canadian Press. Sep. 02, 2004. Steve Lambert

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Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Director International Medical Veritas Association
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine

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