Archives for category: Mercury

From Environmental Health News:

A study raises concern about children’s exposure to mercury through fish eating, tying it for the first time to hormone changes that increase chronic stress and associated immune system dysfunction.

The mercury levels measured in the children were well below the levels considered a health risk by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This new study from Oswego County, New York, finds that higher mercury levels measured in the children’s blood are significantly associated with lower cortisol levels. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress and is important for metabolism, immune responses and blood pressure. Its levels naturally fluctuate during the day – levels are higher in the morning and lower in the afternoon.

Even lower cortisol levels and responses can result in chronic stress even though stress increases the hormone’s level. The study’s results suggest that mercury exposure at levels commonly seen in fish eating populations may do this. It may act as a chronic stressor and disrupt the stress response. Chronic stress means the body doesn’t relax – cells continually function in high gear and do not return to a normal state. Long-term stress can have many negative health effects such as increased heart disease, more metabolic disorders and lowered immunity.

The findings are in line with prior studies in people and fish. The toxic metal increased inflammation in miners exposed to mercury. Animal studies find reduced cortisol levels in mercury-contaminated fish after capture stress.

Fish consumption is a major source both of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and toxic mercury. Omega-3s benefit health by protecting against heart disease. Mercury is potentially harmful because it affects the brain and nervous system in children. Although there are fish advisories in many states, it is still uncertain whether the benefit of eating fish outweighs the potential harm in children.

To address the pros and cons of fish eating in children, the researchers examined 100 children from 9 to 11 years old in New York State. Parents reported children’s fish consumption, which was categorized as eating or not in the analysis. Blood mercury levels, blood lipids, cortisol in saliva and inflammation markers were measured. Blood lipids indicate future heart disease risk; cortisol reflects changes of stress response; and inflammation markers indicate immune response differences.

Fish eaters had higher HDL – or so called good cholesterol – related to lower heart disease risk, than non-fish eaters. However, the fish eaters also had much higher – almost three times higher – mercury levels than non-fish eaters (1.1 and 0.4 microgram per liter, respectively).

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From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration finished crafting tough new rules Friday curbing mercury and other poisons emitted by coal-fired utilities, according to several people briefed on the decision, culminating more than two decades of work to clean up the nation’s dirtiest power plants.

As part of last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations give some flexibility to power plant operators who argued they could not meet the three-year deadline for compliance outlined by the EPA. Several individuals familiar with the details declined to be identified because the agency will not announce the rules until next week.

The new rules will cost utilities $10.6 billion by 2016 for the installation of control equipment known as scrubbers, according to EPA estimates. But the EPA said those costs would be far offset by health benefits. The agency estimates that as of 2016, lowering emissions would save $59 billion to $140 billion in annual health costs, preventing 17,000 premature deaths a year along with illnesses and lost workdays.

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Several experts said the new controls on mercury, acid gas and other pollutants represent one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years. The rules will prevent 91 percent of the mercury in coal from entering the air and much of the soot as well: According to EPA estimates, they will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually by 2016.

“I think this will prove to be the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “It will soon mean the end of the smoke-spewing coal power plant as we know it today. At the same time, the administration is trying to add a bit of flexibility to extinguish the bogus claim that these standards could mean lights out.”

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Congress exempted toxic pollution from power plants — which can include arsenic, chromium, lead, formaldehyde and dioxins, among other substances — when it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. In 2000, under the Clinton administraion, the EPA determined that it should be regulated, but a lengthy legal and lobbying battle ensued.

The EPA finalized the rules Friday to meet the terms of a court-ordered settlement with several advocacy groups that had sued the agency over its 10-year delay in issuing the regulations.

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Image from Flickr.

From Environmental Health News:

By Rebecca Fuoco

Tanner, a 12-year-old from Clyde, Ohio, had a difficult school year. He was only able to attend a few weeks of school. Summer activities are also limited for Tanner, who cannot swim in public pools because his leukemia has left him with a diminished immune system.

Tanner and his older sister are among nearly 40 children from Sandusky County who have been diagnosed with cancer. The community of 62,000 has fought for answers to explain the series of child cancers that began a decade ago.

While cancer clusters are a nightmare for families and communities, they also are frustrating for state and local health officials. Cancer cluster investigations are notoriously difficult because of small budgets, the variety of factors involved in cancer development and the multitude of possible sources and exposures. They are almost always inconclusive.

Earlier this year, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill known as “Trevor’s Law,” named after Trevor Schaefer, a brain cancer survivor who was diagnosed at the age of 13 and has worked to raise awareness of disease clusters and possible links to the environment.

This legislation would direct and fund federal agencies to assist state health officials in investigating potential clusters. It also would create science-based guidelines for cluster identification. The bill was sparked by rising rates of childhood cancer and the President’s Cancer Panel’s 2010 statement that the burden of environmentally-induced cancer is grossly underestimated.

Cancer clusters should indeed be a public policy concern. Forty-two cancer and other disease clusters in 13 states were recently identified by the Natural Resources Defense Council. All of them are suspected of being caused by toxic exposures in the community.

However, Trevor’s Law will yield little benefit unless there also is a significant change in the way chemicals are regulated in the United States.

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the federal law responsible for ensuring safety of industrial chemicals. Among its weaknesses is that it does not require chemical producers to provide data on a chemical’s environmental fate or toxicity before it is introduced into the market. Under the 1976 law, the Environmental Protection Agency may require the manufacturer to provide this information only if a chemical poses certain health or environmental risks. Even then, the procedures EPA must follow to obtain test data from companies can take years.

The EPA does not have the resources to routinely assess the hazards of 700 some chemicals introduced into commerce each year and companies very rarely voluntarily perform such testing. Accordingly, the vast majority of chemicals on the market today have not been tested for toxicity. Without access to scientific information on potential exposure routes, toxic mechanisms and health effects of at least 85,000 chemicals on the market today, it will remain exceedingly difficult for agencies to investigate clusters and their possible environmental causes.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which will begin to close the data gap by requiring chemical manufacturers to develop and make publicly available toxicity and exposure information for all chemicals. . . .

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You can watch Trevor’s riveting testimony to the U.S. Senate (around 31:15) at this video link.

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From The Courier-Journal:

An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study has found mercury contamination in soil downwind from a coal-fired power plant in Indianapolis, supporting the notion of localized mercury hot spots.

The research examined soil near several plants across Central Indiana but zeroed in on an Indianapolis Power & Light plant on the city’s southwest side. That’s where scientists mapped a plume of soil contamination likely from the plant, which is the city’s largest source of mercury emissions.

“Mercury from coal-fired power plants has been found in the ice at the north and the south poles, so the fact that these noxious emissions are swept far away to other areas or even continents, with global environmental impact, is well known,” said lead author Gabriel M. Filippelli, an IUPUI professor of earth sciences.

He said the new research is among the first to document mercury’s impact on soils and the environment near specific coal-burning power plants.

He also said the study, published this month in the journal Water, Air & Soil Pollution, has important implications for other cities with coal-fired power plants, including the Louisville metro area, which has three.

“I would suspect you might have the same situation that we have here in Indianapolis,” he said of Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Louisville Gas & Electric operates the Mill Creek and Cane Run coal-fired plants in southwestern and western Louisville. Duke Energy operates the Gallagher plant in New Albany, immediately west of Louisville.

The three together emit more than twice as much mercury annually as the IPL plant, according to the most recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

All three are also generally upwind from Louisville population centers.

An LG&E spokesman, Chip Keeling, said company officials have not reviewed the study, but still questioned its findings.

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From NJ.com:

Piles Creek is an offshoot of the Arthur Kill — a dead-end waterway that stops in an industrial no-man’s-land in Linden.

To the west is the rumbling New Jersey Turnpike and a cluster of puffing smokestacks. To the north a horizon of power lines and refineries. To the east and south factories and a brownfield.

And what lives here is not quite normal — a strange ecosystem of creatures large and small that seem cast from a bad toxic apocalypse movie.

Grass shrimp and fiddler crabs are larger, and tend to thrive — even though they eat less. In fact, they are not eaten as much themselves.

Their predators, like killifish and bluefish, are smaller, more sluggish and can’t hunt as well — perhaps because their thyroid glands and neurotransmitters are abnormal.

The blue crabs are sluggish and feeding on easily-available food like algae and sediments. But they are also hardier when exposed to toxicity and more savvy at avoiding predators — even becoming nasty and aggressive when provoked.

“It’s a tough neighborhood to grow up in — that’s the way we thought of it in the lab,” said Rutgers University marine biologist Judith Weis, a 70-year-old grandmother of three who has spent the past two decades documenting the creek’s slow recovery since the beginnings of the environmental movement.

For most of the 20th century, wildlife at Piles Creek had no chance to survive. Weis once saw no life in the brackish water, which is still contaminated by mercury, other metals and a whole mess of acronyms, including PAHs and PCBs. Even now, a bridge of gas and oil pipelines runs over the water, marked with neon stakes. A sign warns trespassers of danger.

Over time, though, the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections since the 1960s have slowly brought life back to Piles Creek. But the recovery has left a toxic legacy — a strange process caused by heavy industry, according to Weis.

Her team from Rutgers meticulously documented five species’ transformations. The food chain was in disarray. She said pollution has created its own variety of unnatural effects on the creatures in Linden and Newark Bay, compared with their counterparts in the cleaner waters of Tuckerton some 80 miles to the south.

The team found healthy creatures introduced into the tainted environment were immediately affected. Blue crabs and killifish from Tuckerton lost their innate hunting abilities when they were put into the polluted water.

“If a predator is worse off than you are, it’s an advantage,” Weis noted.

Despite the slow comeback of Piles Creek, it remains an ecological war zone. Lauren Bergey, a student of Weis’s who is now an assistant biology professor at Centenary College, said she once saw a male fiddler crab waving his huge claw atop a Thermos bottle, trying to attract a mate. He had made his burrow inside the container, she said.

“I still do work out there, and when I come back, I smell like an oil refinery,” Bergey said.

The Rutgers study is unique in that pollution-effects studies most often just examine the effects of poisons by dosing specimens in the laboratory, the researchers said.

“I’m hoping this leads to more research out in the field, instead of just exposing species to the contaminants in the lab,” said Weis, who wrapped up decades of observations of the return of life to the polluted water in a study published last month in BioScience.

Weis — who is chair of the science advisory board of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, has served on committees for the Environmental Protection Agency, and is currently writing about water for the United Nations — believes the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections since the 1960s have brought life back to Piles Creek and other places. Yet she said the environmental threats remain.

“The current regulations are allowing really dreadful places like Piles Creek become better,” she said. “However, it will take a lot more effort, money and stronger regulations — and a lot of years — for them to really become healthy environments.”

From Mercury News:

Santa Clara County supervisors this week passed what is believed to be the first law of its kind to ensure that electronic waste — computers and other electronic appliances — isn’t exported out of the country for recycling.

Due to low recycling costs overseas, recyclers have a financial incentive to export e-waste to developing countries where it can be broken down at lower cost. But unregulated recycling practices in those countries often have children breaking apart the devices and exposing themselves to lead, mercury and other toxic materials.

Because only the federal government can directly control international trade, the county ordinance approved Tuesday requires anyone who collects e-waste to bring it to a certified recycler. The recyclers must be certified by e-Steward, a program that seeks to prevent electronic waste from being shipped to poor countries.

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From Contra Costa Times:

The nation’s accelerating shift from incandescent bulbs to a new generation of energy-efficient lighting is raising an environmental concern — the release of tons of mercury every year.

The most popular new light — the curly cue, compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs — account for a quarter of new bulb sales and each contains up to 5 milligrams of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that’s on the worst-offending list of environmental contaminants.

Demand for the bulbs is growing as federal and state mandates for energy-efficient lighting take effect, yet only about 2 percent of residential consumers and one-third of businesses recycle them, according to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers.

“If the recycling rate remains as abysmally low as it is, then there will certainly be more mercury released into the environment,” said Paul Abernathy, executive director of the Napa-based recycling association. “Until the public really has some kind of convenient way to take them back, it’s going to be an issue.”

As a result of discarded fluorescent lights, including CFLs, U.S. landfills release into the atmosphere and in stormwater runoff upward of 4 tons of mercury annually, according to a study in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association.

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