Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Economics of Mercury Toxicity

While the United States was one of the largest culprits when it came to global mercury pollution, up and coming industrial countries, China and India, are now the main antagonists. The U.S. has cut their mercury emissions down by 65 percent in the last decade or two by adhering to the Clean Air Act and other EPA recommendations, China and India have ramped up their production of the main sources for mercury pollution: coal fired power plants, boilers, incinerators, steel and cement production. It is booming business, baby, and developing countries are doing what they need to do to get skin in the global market. What better way then to mimic the practices used by the world economic powers during their Industrial Revolution. Coal productions is plenty and cheap. If we can get developing countries to mine mercury and produce all of the raw materials we in the “first” world need for our essential and non-necessary products…why wouldn’t we? How would we even began to chide or guide these nations when our hands are coated with many layers of blood?

Mercury Toxicity Through the Annals of Time

Mercury has a long history of poisoning and killing throughout human civilization. Here are some
moments that stand out:
  • Mercury was thought to be the elixir of life in China during the reign of the first emperor Qin. It was thought to extend the natural processes of life, heal bones and wounds. According to The History of China written by David Curtis Wright, The first emperor died drinking mercury mixed in a cocktail intended to preserve his health. 
  • The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans used mercury in their make-up even though it would cause all sorts of facial distortions.
  • In the Americas, as far back as 1,400 BC, reports of exposure to mercury (due to mining) caused tremors, blindness, deafness and agonizing deaths. Later, Spanish settlers in the Americas, used the indigenous population and their own prisons as mercury mining slave labor. Large numbers of these laborers shortly died of multiple symptoms we now know are attributed to mercury exposure.
  • There are reports from the Renaissance describing the illnesses brought on by mercury exposure and denouncing the lack of safety while mining it.
  • Just a few years ago, actress Daphne Zuniga and Jeremy Piven publicly announced they’d been showing symptoms of mercury toxicity and traced it back to a large consumption of fish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mercury and Animals

Last week I wrote about mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan. The disease was referred to as the "disease of the dancing cats" because the domesticated cats also suffered from the strange behavior and convulsions experienced by the human patients (source).

Today, mercury is still harming animals, particularly wildlife. Any species which relies primarily on fish or seafood for food is particularly at risk.

Today, BBC News reported on the findings of biologists at the University of Saskatchewan. According to the research, the amount of mercury detected in the ivory gull has increased 45 fold over the last 130 years (source).

Although this study focused specifically on this species of gull, it seems likely that the impact on other species of sea birds with similar diets is comparable.

This study has a major implications on the state of the health of the environment and many endangered or threatened species. Since the ivory gull has a diet and geographic range similar to the polar bear, for example, further research may find similar results in other species (source).

Omega-3 Alternatives

Omega-3 is highly essential for the development and healthy function of the human brain. While important for adults, it is imperative for children’s brain development. While sea food is part of a normal balanced diet, mercury isn’t. Mercury is found in various levels in different types of fish, and consumption can be limited by portion sizing. See our website’s page on Portion Sizing for more information.
A common misconception is that Omega-3 is only found in fish and other sea food items. This is incorrect. There are many non-fish, and even some vegetarian options to consume a good amount of Omega-3 for healthy brain development and function. Some of those options are as follows: walnuts, olive oil, flax seeds, vegetarian Omega-3 supplements, and some grass fed meats and eggs (fortified). Consulting with your physician is important to choose the best option for your individual (and family) health.


Tessa Schwass