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Re: Editorial on Mercury


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Tue, 23 Dec 2008 10:06:37 -0500





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Although it is a bit off topic, the continued use of mercury on a small
scale basis for gold mining, for example, is still creating some extremely
dangerous situations in mostly rural areas around the world (e.g. Indonesian
Borneo and Brazil). Some efforts have been made to "make the use of mercury
safe" for the mercury users, but most of this mercury still goes into local
rivers and has been doing so for tens of years. There are clear indications
of serious mercury poisoning via the aquatic food web which I have seen in
the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan, and have seen reported for areas of the
Amazon. Essentially no government policies are in place to halt these

At the other extreme is the widespread broadcast of small amounts of mercury
(e.g. from coal fired power plants, and from various consumer items... such
as energy efficient light bulbs?). While these effects are somewhat less
dangerous they are widespread and insidious. Both types of mercury
pollution need better control.

Does anyone know a single summary document that examines these issues and
possible policies on a national or international level?


        Richard G. Dudley
       [log in to unmask]
        Skype: rgdudley

-----Original Message-----
From: Scientific forum on fish and fisheries
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Harris, Craig
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 7:55 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Editorial on Mercury

thanks to bill for his additional comments . . .

indeed one of my points was that, through environmental health activism
and food safety activism, we should force the reduction of anthropogenic
sources from the longterm agenda to the middle term agenda (and
hopefully near middle term, at that) . . .

i agree with bill that we need to have realistic expectations of how
quickly mercury content in various species (open ocean, highly
migratory, relatively immobile) will decrease . . . but we know from our
experience with ozone destroying chemicals (1) that the problem will not
decrease at all until we reduce the anthropogenic input, and (2) that
the problem can improve fairly quickly if we make a major effort to
reduce the anthropogenic input . . .

i also agree with bill that much of our awareness of mercury
contamination of seafood comes from fairly localized examples due to
mining or manufacturing processes (e.g., minamata disease, st. james bay
cree) . . . my sense is that once the processes whereby aquatic, benthic
and sedimentary biota methylate inorganic mercury were identified and
understood, fate and transport modeling of localized situations became
fairly straightforward . . . like bill, i'm not aware of how well
developed is the modeling of the longer distance processes that
determine the fate and transport of mercury emited into the air from the
combustion of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic sources . . . if
better understanding of these longer distance processes is needed, we
should be advocating for the allocation of more resources to this
research . . .



craig k harris
department of sociology
michigan agricultural experiment station
national food safety and toxicology center
institute for food and agricultural standards
food safet policy center
michigan state university

-----Original Message-----
From: Scientific forum on fish and fisheries
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Bill Silvert
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 7:02 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Editorial on Mercury

I agree with Craig's points, except that I wonder whether the reduction
of mercury is a medium-term or long-term proposition. I don't know the
residence time for mercury in the ocean, can someone enlighten us on
that point?

Also, what is the spatial distribution of mercury? The best-known
incidents have involved high concentrations in bays and lakes, but are
the oceans all equally impacted? Is there spatial variation in the
mercury load of fish like tuna?

These are not rhetorical questions, I really do not know the answers.
But I do think that these are issues that need to be addressed if we
want to deal effectively with the mercury problem.

Bill Silvert

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harris, Craig" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 11:12 AM
Subject: Re: Editorial on Mercury

i agree that, in the short run, as a matter of public policy the
government needs to provide authoritative, credible and valid advice to
women of child bearing age about the consumption of fish, in an effort
to increase the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease the
consumption of mercury . . .

however, all the fuss and focus on the best warning seems to me to
obscure the more important, medium-term point . . . as nations and as
international organizations, we need to figure out how to reduce the
mercury content of otherwise healthful fish and seafood . . . that
requires developing a reasonably accurate understanding of the
anthropogenic sources of mercury in fish and seafood, and developing and
implementing policy to reduce, as quickly as possible, as much as
possible, those sources . . .

i hope that the incoming u.s. administration will put at least as much
effort into reducing the mercury content of fish and seafood as it does
into resolving the two meal limit issue . . .

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