Mercury: What's The Big Deal?

Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative toxin which negatively affects both public health and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that, "Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages." The greatest danger, however, falls upon pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children. In utero exposure to the substance has been linked to developmental disorders, cardiac dysfunction, and has even been indicated as a potential link to autism. Based on blood mercury analyses conducted from 1999-2000, the US EPA now estimates that over 630,000 children are born in the U.S each year that face an increased risk of learning disabilities from methyl mercury exposure in the womb; this is one out of every six children born annually.

Mercury has also been shown to negatively affect wildlife, such as eagles, otters, and the endangered Florida panther and wood stork. Methyl mercury exposure has been linked to, "mortality, reduced fertility, slower growth, and developmental and abnormal behavior that affects survival…" These creatures are affected for the same reasons human beings are affected: the consumption of contaminated fish.

Virtually any living organism that consumes mercury will store the element in their body, and it will stay there indefinitely. When mercury enters our lakes and oceans, bacteria ingest the toxin and convert it to methyl mercury. The bacteria are consumed by living organisms which are themselves consumed by fish, and in this way mercury moves up the food chain. People are exposed to mercury by eating mercury-contaminated fish. To date,44 states have issued mercury-related fish advisories. Thirty-three states advise that certain fish from specific water bodies are not be consumed by anyone. Find out more about California's advsiory.

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