- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - Rain
and snow falling on the New England states has been found to contain levels
of mercury that far exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
considers safe for people, aquatic life and wildlife in surface waters,
concludes a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation
- The report, "Clean the Rain, Clean the Lakes II,"
highlights a host of dangers that stem from exposure to mercury, a potent
- "We usually think of rain as pure and clean, and
that's the way it should be, said NWF president and CEO Mark Van Putten.
"But this report reveals that rain falling over cities, coasts and
even remote parks in the New England states can contain as much as 30 times
the EPA's safe level of mercury, which holds extremely serious health implications
for both humans and wildlife."
- Mercury in rain comes from mercury pollution of the air.
The leading sources of mercury emissions in the New England region include
incinerators, coal and oil fired power plants, and industrial sources that
produce chlorine and caustic soda.
- The report chronicles mercury contamination levels found
in rain and snow falling over a host of New England states, including Connecticut,
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. While no standards
for mercury in rain currently exist, scientists found that mercury levels
in precipitation frequently exceeded the surface water safety standard
set by the EPA.
- Mercury levels in rain falling on Maine's Acadia National
Park were up to four times higher than the EPA's surface water standard,
the report found.
- Precipitation falling on the communities of Quabbin,
Massascusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Underhill, Vermont was also
found to contain as much as four times the concentration of mercury allowable
under the EPA's surface water standard.
- The EPA's surface water standard for mercury was developed
for the Great Lakes region, and is not a legal requirement for New England's
- The impacts of rain contaminated with mercury can be
enormous. Even at low exposure levels, mercury can cause subtle but permanent
harm to the human neurological system. If ingested or inhaled at high levels,
it can cripple or kill.
- A recent report issued by the National Academy of Sciences
estimates that 60,000 newborns each year may suffer developmental harm
due to fetal mercury exposure, primarily from their mothers' consumption
of mercury contaminated fish.
- Currently, every one of the New England States has issued
formal advisories warning people to restrict or avoid consuming certain
species of fish taken from local lakes, streams and costal waters. Maine,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut have statewide fish
consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.
- Mercury can pose grave threats to the existence of wildlife.
The substance is a reproductive hazard for many birds and fish, including
rainbow trout, zebra fish, mallard and American black ducks, loons and
- Providence, Rhode Island is subject to rain containing
more than four times the amount of mercury allowed under the EPA's surface
water standard. (Photo by Richard Benjamin courtesy Office of Providence
Mayor Victor Cianci Jr.) In the New England, the sources of airborne mercury
include incinerators, coal and oil fired power plants, and industries making
chlorine and caustic soda.
- The National Wildlife Federation is calling on those
industries to make drastic cuts in their emissions. If the industries refuse
to do so, then state, local and national governments must take meaningful
steps to force such emissions reductions, the report urges.
- "With so much at stake for both people and wildlife,
decisive action is needed now to limit mercury emissions," said Andy
Buchsbaum, the NWF's water quality program manager. "Once mercury
pollution goes up into the atmosphere, rain carries it right back down
into the water humans and wildlife depend on."
- The report recommends that a number of specific actions
be taken. Among them:
- * The EPA must require coal fired power plants to control
their mercury. The agency is currently in the process of determining whether
to regulate such plants. * The six New England states should commit to
a timetable to virtually eliminate mercury emissions in the region by 2010.
* Hospitals, dental offices and other medical facilities should practice
what the National Wildlife Federation calls "mercury free medicine"
by eliminating mercury use. The NWF also calls on such facilities to stop
incinerating their medical wastes, a procedure which can emit a number
of toxic substances into the air.
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