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Published:May 14th, 2007 04:25 EST
Mercury Poisoning Still a Big Concern

Mercury Poisoning Still a Big Concern

By Jennifer L. Hernandez

 

Bridgeport, CT resident, Janet Hernandez`s eyes lit up while recounting her childhood days, in the late 60s, spent fishing in Long Island or visiting New York City`s large fish market with her father. She remembers those trips vividly and it is apparent that her excitement and galoshes were always in tow, especially, the latter, when frequenting the fish market. I remember walking hand-in-hand with my father into New York City`s fish market. It was a large market with a plethora of the area`s best catches, " said Hernandez.

Hernandez went on to describe the carefree days of purchasing fish and fishing without the worry of mercury poisoning from fish consumption.

In those days, we didn`t worry about mercury poisoning from fish. Our main concern was the mercury found in thermometers. My father warned me on numerous occasions to never break a thermometer because mercury is harmful, " said Hernandez.

The mercury found in thermometers, as the one Hernandez described, is metallic elemental mercury. Inorganic mercurial salts and organic mercurial are the other two major forms of mercury. Metallic elemental mercury at room temperature is a dense, silver, odorless liquid. It is harmful at room temperature and even more harmful when heated.

According to a medical nurse at Bridgeport Hospital, individuals with exposure to mercury may present with symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, metallic taste, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and weakness. The Department of Health and Human Services concludes with this information, as well.

I`m almost sure we have handled cases related to mercury poisoning, " said a medical nurse at Bridgeport Hospital. Due to HIPPA laws, it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of medical cases Bridgeport Hospital has dealt with regarding mercury poisoning.

Regardless of the exact number of cases related to mercury poisoning that Bridgeport Hospital and/or other area hospitals encounter on a yearly basis, the threat of mercury poisoning is prevalent in Connecticut. In fact, fish consumption advisory has been in effect since 1996 and was issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health as a direct result of an assessment of mercury levels in fresh water waterways in Connecticut in 1995.

It is a bit frightening, " said Dale Cialfi, Armonk, N.Y. in response to the presence of mercury levels in fish. This current state is frightening " as a 2000 study by the Center for Disease Control found that 1 in 10 women of childbearing age is at a risk of giving birth to a newborn with neurological problems due to exposure from mercury. Neurological problems include, but are not limited to, dizziness, muscle paralysis, difficulty walking, speech disorders, failure of muscle coordination, mental disability etc....

Common mercury exposure stems from direct contact with a broken thermometer or fish consumption. Mercury enters aquatic species due to air pollution or past chemical spills. According to Roger Smith, Campaign Director of Clean Water Action( a campaign focused on preventing mercury exposure by promoting effective health warnings), the primary sources of mercury in CT are the Bridgeport coal power plant, coal power plants upwind of CT and trash incinerators in CT.  When products containing mercury are burned at these power plants, it is released into the air and contaminates soil and water. The aquatic species ingest the toxin and individuals who consume fish with high levels of mercury run a huge risk of becoming extremely ill.

We want to keep Connecticut residents` exposure to any metal at a minimum, " said Gary Archambault, Epidemiologist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

I feel that if you do not eat too much of it per week, you should be all right. Like once a week, " said Cialfi. This coincides with the Connecticut Department of Public Health recommendations. The department suggests that individuals limit their consumption of bluefish, tuna and halibut to a bare minimum. I do not eat bluefish anymore. When I was younger, I did. Since the mid 80s, I only consume fish such as flounder and cod, " said Hernandez.

According to the department, individuals may consume flounder, cod or salmon 1-2 times a week. However, individuals in a high-risk group such as children under age six or women who are nursing or pregnant need to follow other guidelines set forth by the department. For more specific information visit:   

http://www.dph.state.ct.us/EOHA/Documents/ificatchit.pdf

The Connecticut River and Housatonic River are just two of 20 fresh water waterways that individuals must heed to the guidelines set forth by the department when consuming fish from these rivers.

Even if an individual follows the guidelines mercury poisoning can still occur from either fish or other sources. Archambault recommends that any individual with symptoms associated with mercury poisoning should contact their medical professional immediately.

Mercury is persistent in the environment and will remain so for decades even if all emissions stop.  There are mercury advisories in effect for all CT water bodies.  New coal plants in CT or upwind will worsen our mercury problems.  Our mercury products law should reduce incinerator mercury pollution by keeping mercury from going up the stack of an incinerator, " said Smith.

By mid-2008, the CT Mercury law will require control of the Bridgeport City Harbor plant. A plant linked to the 21% of surveyed households with children diagnosed with asthma. The law will establish an 85% reduction of pollution.


Even with this progress, the threat of mercury poisoning will linger for a very long time. In order, to restore any chance of returning to those nostalgic, carefree days Hernandez described individuals must ban together to promote awareness and change. Together, individuals can reel in the biggest catch of the day!
To get involved and/or for more information please visit:
http://cleanwateraction.org/ct/mercury.html