Mercury Levels in Humans and Fish Regularly Exceed Health Advisory Levels Worldwide
A new scientific report finds that humans and marine ecosystems around the world are contaminated with mercury and that mercury levels in humans and fish regularly exceed health advisory guidelines. The report, a collaboration between IPEN and Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), highlights the urgent need for an overall reduction in mercury emissions when government delegates convene next week in Geneva in their final negotiating session for an international mercury treaty – the first global treaty on the environment in more than a decade by the United Nations Environment Programme.
The report, Global Mercury Hotspots, brings together new data on mercury concentrations in fish and human hair samples and identifies, for the first time, a set of global biological hotspots where elevated levels of mercury are sufficient to pose serious threats to both ecosystems and human health.
Key findings from the report:
>>Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world.
>>Fish samples from around the world regularly have mercury concentrations exceeding US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) human health advisory guidelines. In the study, 43 to 100 percent of fish samples from 8 countries exceeded safe consumption of one fish meal of 170 grams (6 ounces) per month. Mercury concentrations in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that no consumption is recommended.
>>More than 82 percent of human hair samples from 8 countries exceeded U.S. EPA reference dose levels of 1.0 ppm. In Thailand, 20 out of 20 individuals living near an industrial site had unsafe levels; 19 out of 20 Indonesians at a gold mining site exceeded EPA recommended levels; and 18 out of 20 individuals in Tokyo, Japan had similarly high levels.
Objections to naming the treaty after one of the world's worst mercury contamination sites, Minamata, Japan, have also been raised by some government delegates, the Minamata City Council, and organizations representing victims of the tragedy.
Large, intentional uses of mercury include small-scale gold mining, coal combustion, and vinyl chloride monomer production. Much of the mercury produced and used eventually volatizes into the atmosphere and travels around the globe, eventually falling back to the earth or ocean.
Exposure to high levels of mercury can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Harmful effects are also passed from a mother to her developing fetus and can result in brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and an inability to speak.