Today the Natural Resources Council of Maine released Maine and national results from a Mercury Hair Sampling study conducted by the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and commissioned by Greenpeace and the Mercury Policy Project.
The study found mercury levels exceeding the EPA’s recommended limit of 1 microgram of mercury per gram of hair in 21 percent (126 out of 597) of women of childbearing age tested nationwide and 44 percent (4 out of 9) of women of childbearing age tested in Maine.
“This study shows that the mercury raining down on Maine is ending up in our bodies,” says Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine has done its part; now we need the federal government to obey the Clean Air Act and require power plants to clean up 90 percent of their mercury pollution.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which has been leading efforts to prevent mercury pollution in Maine for a decade, recruited the 29 Mainers who participated in the study. The participants included nine women of childbearing age. Of these women, 4 out of 9 – or 44 percent – tested above the EPA limit for mercury.
“I have an obligation to protect the health of my children as well as my own health,” said Brigitte Kingsbury,” a mother from Cape Elizabeth who got herself and her two sons tested. “Knowledge is power and getting tested is a first step toward protecting my family and community from mercury pollution.”
So far, the laboratory has analyzed hair tests for 1,449 people of all ages around the country. Mercury contamination is a particular concern for young children and women of childbearing age (16 to 49 years old), because mercury exposure in the womb can cause neurological damage and other health problems in children. The EPA has not established mercury exposure health standards for older children, men, or women older than 49.
“In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption,” said Dr. Richard Maas, Co-director of the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) and author of the report. “We saw a direct relationship between people’s mercury levels and the amount of store-bought fish, canned tuna fish or locally caught fish people consumed.”
Coal burning power plants are the nation’s biggest mercury polluter, releasing 41 percent of the country’s industrial mercury pollution. Mercury from these dirty power plants and other sources falls into lakes, streams and oceans, concentrating in fish and shellfish, which are then consumed by people.
“People should not have to stop eating fish because they’re afraid they’ll get poisoned by mercury,” said Casey Harrell of Greenpeace.
“We don’t think people should have to stop eating fish; we think power plant mercury pollution should be stopped,” said Matt Prindiville. “We do urge Mainers to follow the state’s fish-consumption advisories.”
The Mercury Hair Sampling Project was started as a response to the EPA’s failure to clean up power plant mercury pollution. Cleaning up existing coal plants and developing wind and solar energy would reduce pollution and its health impacts.