Mad about mercury pollution


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Mercury may no longer be driving hatters mad, but its effect on our health and the environment still makes us crazy with concern this Mercury Awareness Week.

Mercury can be found in everything from thermometers to dental fillings, but it is methyl mercury, the nasty stuff that makes it into the sea animals we consume, that remains the biggest concern for both our health and the environment.

Mercury pollution comes from a variety of sources including metal smelting, chlorine chemical plants and power plants. Among these sources, coal-burning power plants release the largest amount of mercury into the air, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. When coal, which is naturally contaminated with mercury, is burned to make electricity, the mercury is released into the air through the smokestacks. This mercury then can find its way into our waters and subsequently into the fish we consume.

And though new regulations, such as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology Act, will help reduce the amount of toxic air pollution released by power plants in the United States, other nations are just starting to catch up with their own environmental laws, making mercury exposure a concern for everyone worldwide.

While it is unlikely the average adult will consume the lethal dose (20 to 60 mg/kg for a 154 lb. person) of methyl mercury in one sitting, over time chronic exposure to methyl mercury can wreak havoc on the central nervous system, and cause such symptoms as blurred vision, deafness and blindness, according to the EPA.

By far, mercury exposure by developing fetuses remains the biggest concern, with infants born to women who ingested high levels of methyl mercury exhibiting symptoms of central nervous system damage including mental retardation and cerebral palsy, according to the EPA. Even at lower levels of exposure, developmental delays and abnormal reflexes were noted in infants.

Click here to learn more about how mercury enters the environment and the food chain.

While keeping track of what seafood is safe to consume can be challenging, the rule of thumb is the higher up in the food chain, the higher amount of mercury. But if you are still not sure, check out this handy guide from the Sierra Club. As an added bonus, seafood with lower levels of mercury tends to be more sustainable.

Learn more about sustainable seafood here.

OK, so we now know how to limit our mercury consumption, but can anything be done about the mercury that is already in our bodies? According to Naturalnews.com, the answer is yes. The site points out that consuming onions, garlic and even cilantro (um, salsa anyone?) can help cleanse our bodies of toxins, including mercury.

We suspect you don’t run a power plant, but you can still help reduce mercury pollution by doing your part to conserve energy. Check out these tips from Earth911.com.